Denis Taylor Artist and writer

Denis Taylor Artist Writer and Curator of TUBES art Gallery

Aegina island

Aegina Island in the Saronic Gulf Greece
Palia Hora Old Town in Greece

My Life as an English Artist on a Greek island. 1988. Part 3

My Life as an English Artist on a Greek island Part 3 of 23…“Borders and Mountains ”

continued from part one… As we left the ferry I frantically thumbed through the AA book that came with the Van we had rented and for some inexplicable reason was a copy in the German language and not English.

…My geographical knowledge was as good, well as good as any other person, so it was not an issue to identify the major roads in Europe. Baz said he remembered much of the plan and that we should be heading towards Munich. It was quickly decided we should look for a road sign marked A26 – which was more a guess than it was knowledge. It took some time before Ged spotted the road sign and that seemed to calm us all down a bit, up to that point we had been nervously shouting at each other in disagreement of which road we should have been taking.

The A26 led to Reims, which was a decent drive away and gave me time to sort some sort a reasonable route. I had decided to go from City to City. That was from Rheims to Metz then cross the French German border at Saabrüken. The aim was to head towards Stuttgart and after going past Munich, that we should go on into Austria. After which I would access the route again. Ged said he would sleep in the back of the Van and be ready to take over the wheel in a sort of relay system. I would stay awake to ensure we kept to our pre-arranged time target. Baz and Ged had planned to stay two nights on Aegina, but to me, that now looked unlikely, as we were already hours behind schedule.

Towards the Austrian border

The road to Munich was an easy enough drive, mainly being motorway. We crossed the border between France and Germany without really being aware of it. Time was racing by and it was already gone two o-clock in the morning. Ged was snoring in the back of the van and Baz kept assuring me he was ‘OK’ and didn’t need to stop for a rest. We had a bag full of soft drinks, fruit and nut chocolate bars, bags of Walkers crisps. And to top that Baz had brought along a stack of his famous home made Cheese and Onion sarnies on white sliced bread. Made in Manchester of course. As we flashed past Munich City we followed the signs towards the Austrian border. And this was the place of our first major hold up.

It was still dark and the lights of the Border Post was lit up to what looked like a deserted border control. Or at least it seemed that way. We approached the barrier gingerly and pulled up at the ‘Stop’ sign. An official walked out from the office door. He looked at the writing on the side of the Van which spelt out our Englishness. It said Salford Van Hire with a UK telephone number. And in a strong Austrian accent asked for our passports. We gave him three. He looked confused until we pointed out that we had our friend in the back – who was sleeping.

my life as an artist in Greece Part Three

The Officer asked us to step out of the Van, And then instructed us to open the back doors. Ged stirred from under his sleeping bag and looked like around like a scared rabbit in headlights. “How are there?” He said? And without stopping said “is it my turn to Drive?” The border man asked him to step outside. He then told us to empty the van of everything inside. I thought he though we were people smugglers. Baz made things worse in my mind by suggesting that the Border Officer probably thought we were escaping the police in Germany or France or England after robbing a bank or something.

Baz and Ged unloaded the Van whilst I spoke to the officer explaining to him what we doing in a rented van in Austria, and how we had forgotten our map and how I wanted to paint thirty paintings in Greece. I nervously rattled on and on as the Officer looked over our passports several times and then through a list on his desk. He guided me to the outside and looked at the contents of the van. He inspected inside the driving cupboards and under the bonnet and kicked the tyres. He then told us to reload my stuff which was by now spread out of the retention area. Having stamped our passports and the Official allowed us to passover into the unknown mountain road towards the East.

“We need to get a move on.”

We meandered along various roads which lacked signposts, not that they would have helped, as we had no idea what other Austrian City to head for next- apart from Belgrade in Yugoslavia – And that sign was nowhere to be seen.. At junctions it became a game of ‘ heeny meeny meeny mo…’ turn left- I headed towards the mountains knowing that the map shown there was a road somewhere that would take us through the mountains and down towards an unknown point of arrival.

I really struggled to find a target in the AA book and the only logical word that made sense to me was something called “the Wuzen Pass” – I chatted with Baz about my conclusion of how to get on a road towards Belgrade. – “The what Pass?” He asked. “Wuzen” I said – He laughed. “ What? The Wurse then Pass?. I replied that sounded almost right. “Worse than What.?” He asked, but I couldn’t answer him. “Maybe it’s just a name.” I said.
“Just plot the most direct route ar’kid’ Baz said. “We need to get a move on.”

The road got steeper as we rode higher. Then we found ourselves going into a valley.
It was about 4.30 am and still very dark, but we finally we spotted a sign for a Town – “Maybe we can get a drink at a cafe.” I said. Baz looked at me and said that we still had some Coke in the bag and we needed to make up for lost time. There was something odd about this town. As we entered it there was a banner across the road, ‘Castrol Track Competition.’ it said in English high lighted by spot lamps. A little bit further along the street tyres were placed and painted in bright yellow along the sides of the road together with more signs for Castrol Oil. We drove along the main road thinking we would be through the small town in no time.

However, we ended up where we had started only coming into the starting point from another side road. We drove round again – three times in fact – finally we found the ending of the track which had a chequered flag on another Castrol sign – as we rode through it Baz opened his window and put his Arm out in a victory gesture- “Yea…Winners.” He shouted and laughed.

Climbing up to the Wuzen Pass

As we again began to climb Baz was looking totally wiped out. As was I – We pulled over into a safe area on the road and decided to grab some sleep. After ten minutes and without the engine and warm air vents blowing we awoke shaking violently with the cold. “No point. Lets keep on the road.” Baz said firmly. Ged was still asleep in the back of the Van.

“we reached the pinnacle of the mountain.”

Eventually we found the road towards the Wuzen Pass in the early morning light.
It looked very steep and Baz was unsure if we could make it to the top. We woke Ged up in case of trouble. Baz took a deep breath and began the climb in third gear. Before very long he dropped to second. We kept climbing and climbing until the road was so steep that Van struggled to stay moving forward. Baz dropped to first gear and after what seemed like an age we reached the pinnacle of the mountain.

Then as we reached the top it was almost a sheer drop on a winding road down.
Baz kept the gear in first gear and he had to almost stand up on the brakes. Both Ged and I were at a 45 degree angle leaning backwards as we careered down the mountain. We finally reached the base of the mountain where the road flattened out. Baz pulled over to allow the engine to cool down, was it at a point of overheating and the smell of burning oil was palpable….

“Fucking Worsen Pass Ever.”

Baz said and we all laughed hysterically.

Part 4 – “who wants to be a millionaire in Belgrade?”

note: This part of the Odyssey was the first time I felt the sheer staying power and determination of Englishmen in another country. And the fantastic ironic comedy when facing danger, an attitude that maintains a Nation through potential real tragic circumstances. It was a thought process that was to have enormous value as we continued on with the Greek Odyssey…and into an eventful year (1988)

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