The long road to Spain, Part 2
Fights and cocktails on the way to Spain
I had set off on the next 30-hour trip to Spain and felt I understood more of what was happening. On the first trip I had looked at my small sleeping space under two back seats with trepidation but now, weirdly, it felt like home.
What was different this time was that most of the upper level on the coach was empty. “That’s because we are going to another city to pick up a large group all travelling together” said Jill, the hostess.
Having picked up the first passengers who would occupy the lower deck we travelled 2 hours to collect the holidaymakers for the upper deck. As we pulled into the rendezvous car park I noticed a group of people having what seemed like a quite a serious disagreement. Jill and myself looked at each other. As we drew up, they stopped, as if by magic, and only happy smiling faces greeted us. The rules of the coach were strict, and any form of bad behaviour meant you were not going to travel. However, the alarm bells in my head were deafening, my instincts told me we were in for a bumpy ride.
The first part of the journey to the British coast went without incident. As we got off on the ferry for the crossing to France I had convinced myself I was worrying about nothing.
Night fell, and we started the long overnight journey to the French border and then on to the French motorways..
I started to think about crawling under the two seats to sleep when Jill came to the back and said trouble had started upstairs. Obviously, any sort of fighting is bad, but on a coach, traveling at high speed on a French motorway in the pitch black was scary. Quickly, we told our driver who then pulled over. The driver (with me and Jill as support) went up the stairs.
The disagreement seemed to be with two rival families about who was going to have what bed in the caravans they had booked when they got to Spain. With great calmness our driver explained that this was not they way to behave and any further trouble would lead to the culprits being ejected at the nearest French service station.
Peace lasted all of 5 minutes before two men started pushing each other. What we didn’t know was that after discussing the situation, our two drivers had called base, who then contacted the French gendarmes. As we pulled into the next service station, we stared wide-eyed at what awaited us.
The coach was guided into a cordon of blue lights and a very tough looking group of French police. As we stopped they quickly boarded the coach and before we knew it the two men (who were still pushing each other) turned to argue with the Police. These men had obviously only dealt with British Police not their French equivalent. They never did make it to their holiday caravan.
The remainder of our 30-hour journey passed without incident and we rolled into northern Spain only a little late. For the next two hours, while the coach was unloaded and new passengers checked in, Jill and myself had a little time to ourselves. “Do you drink?” she said. Well it had been known for me to take a drink and it was then that I found out about her side-line. She would take orders for alcohol from friends and family and used her contact in the town to acquire cheap booze.
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We took a detour into a back street of the town to a small door in a wall. On knocking we were admitted into a small room. Here was where the alcohol was sold. A large flask of clear liquid was put in front of me. “What do you want, whisky, brandy or gin?” he said. To be honest, the flask of clear liquid didn’t look like any of them. “Whisky” I said. With that, he took a very small phial of dark liquid and snapped off the glass top and poured it into the big flask which immediately turned golden brown. It now did look vaguely like whisky but had never seen the inside of a Scottish distillery. It was, however, very cheap and though it seemed to taste like I imagined rocket fuel to taste like, I think it was safe and at home Jill had had no complaints.
It was on that homeward journey I had a chance to try this latest alcohol. As I mentioned before the drivers never drank and had the highest standards of safety but on the long tiring journey back to the UK the hostesses would occasionally had a “homemade “cocktail. They would half empty a two-litre bottle of Fanta sparkling orange and fill it with the freshly acquired brandy and hey presto “coach cocktails”
We had a great time until many hours later, lying once again under my seats the rocking, bouncing hot atmosphere of the coach, the cocktails took their toll.
My adventures would continue over the coming weeks but I swore I would never ever drink on a coach again.
Next time, breakdowns and crew mutiny
Hopeful Traveller is a weekly newsletter and archive of stories about broadcasting in the 1970s and 80s. It is written by former-newsreader and programme maker Paul Baird. For new stories each week, subscribe.