Les Mirandes Golf and Country Club
Sadly we have lost Charlie Drake

Climate change

I have been reading about the potential disaster facing the resort owners in Europe's mountains because of the lack of snow this year. It has been very warm right across Europe but I cannot help wondering if there is a little too much scaremongering about global warming?

I remember back in 1984 when we had an unseasonably warm Autumn and all the old'ns would pipe up about how the seasons were so much more defined when they were younger.

The following year we had the most horrendous freeze and I could not work outside for over 2 months.

I bought some turf for a job in Whitehill and had it delivered by my old mate Martin Ansell from Turfrite (remember him?). Anyway I had laid 50% of it and knocked off for the day but it snowed overnight and then froze and that was it for two months!

I ended up, ironically, coming to France and Spain with some mates who ran a (Mickey Mouse) haulage company to collect, would you believe, Oranges.

I used to Drink and play pool in the Spread Eagle in Liss as a youngster and I was in their moping and complaining that I could not work and was fed up with the weather.

Billy East said to me " come with us to Spain, it is always warm and sunny there".

Why not I thought so the next day I packed a tooth brush, some spare boxers and drove down to Longmoor Road where they kept the trucks.

Two lorries were going. The old Volvo that I was riding in, and another one Who's make I cannot recall but it was the youngest and tidiest of the two.

It was bitterly cold. I mean minus seven during the day or so and minus twelve or more at night. The skies were brilliantly clear and the air crisp. The ice penetrated deep into the soil which had made any kind of gardening impossible so hence the excitement at travelling on this adventure abroad following the sun.

Anyway, I should have read something into it when Billy welcomed me into the cab of this heap of ....... I mean, nice big brown lorry.

We did all the pre flight checks as you do and then it was time to start the engine up and get the air pressure in the compressors up to activate the brakes.

Now this is the moment when I should have jumped back into my mini and headed off back to Mum's centrally heated house with hot food and a comfortable bed.

Billy told me that the starter motor was broken and that I needed to manually assist at this point. This consisted of holding a big crow bar against the starter motor so the two cogs could engage whilst Billy turned the engine over.

Now I was only a wee lad and those lorries are heavy duty so a bit of aggression was needed and my hands froze to the cold steel of the bar as I gripped. We eventually got the engine going but I had to question Billy why there was only one bolt out of the three that should have been there holding the unit on.  He said the studs had been sheared off and they had not the time to fix it!

We only had a short drive down the A3 to Portsmouth. We ate a meal on board the ferry in the drivers canteen and settled down for the five and a half hour journey to Le Havre.

I bet you can imagine the funny looks I got from the other drivers as I positioned the crow bar to start the engine when we came to leave the boat?

Anyway, I was relieved to be on foreign soil but I was not prepared for the scene the other side! The ground was absolutely covered in snow and it was worse than we had left behind! I made some comment to Billy that this was a surprise but he assured me not to worry because as we got closer to Spain the snow would disappear and the temperatures steadily rise. When I look back I wonder how I could have been so gullible?

The roads were treacherous with fresh frozen snow covering the route, making progress very slow. Lorries travelled in convoy to ease the drag caused by the strong wind. Layby's and rest areas were full with lorries as drivers rested. Because of the conditions the concentration needed must have made it the more tiring and all a driver could do was stop, make a brew or go into a service station, breaking the journey up.

The conditions then took a severe turn as blizzards blew in as we travelled. I was getting nervous by this time, especially as the snow covered the auto routes and lorries travelled just feet from the rear of the one in front

I remember driving through the centre of Paris which is illegal in a lorry without a license but that turned out to be the least of our worries.

A while after Paris Billy decided that we should have a break and then make one last push to get as far down as we could before stopping for the night.

Unfortunately, Billy had turned off the engine as we had a cup of Liptons tea in the service station. It was a mistake that would cost us dearly but we didn't know this until we were another 5 miles down the road after the restart.

The temperature gauge on the lorry started to rise and a warning light came on. We were not in a position to stop on the motorway but the situation was getting serious and it was apparent we had a major problem. It was decided to leave the auto route at the next exit and just as we did the engine made the most horrendous noise as the big ends gave way. We stopped to look at the engine to find steam rising into the fresh cold air.

We limped on until we came to a service station in a small town. The lone mechanic looked at the lorry and Billy tried to explain in elongated English words what the matter was.

It was established that we had blown a head gasket but the they could not work on the Lorry that day.

We were shown a small room with two beds and a shower. This was bliss because we were freezing=zing cold. A proper bed for the night with radiator and a hot shower to warm up our freezing bones.

We walked into the town for something to eat but we had little money. We had thought that the whole trip would be four days but it looked like it would be four before we left the garage and we still had over a thousand miles to go just to collect the oranges.

We walked into the small smoke filled bar to complete silence. There were a few locals playing pool or drinking at the bar. It was long before I understood French custom so we kept ourselves to ourselves and ordered a beer and a Jambon Sandwich (the only French phrase Billy knew).

We ended up staying for a further 2 days whilst the lorry was fixed. The same routine, a walk to the bar, a sandwich and a beer and then back for a shower and a sleep.

The adventure was now wearing off and the severity the faced us was coming home.

I had little money and no change of warm clothing and more worryingly Billy was less prepared.

His Brother Freddie who had the better lorry had made good progress and was in Spain collecting the Oranges

Unfortunately, mobile phones didn't exist then so the only way to communicate with each other was by calling the office in Longmoor Road and having messaged conveyed back at forth.

Eventually, we continued our journey just as Freddie travelled north with his trailer full of Oranges and through the not so instant messaging it was agreed we would meet Freddie just past Barcelona.

We travelled up into the Pyrenees very slowly and stopped at the top at the most rugged drivers bar I have ever seen.

We had a drink and a simple meal and in the morning drove 100 yards through the Spanish border.

The roads were so icy it is difficult to believe we had made it so far.

We drove  through Barcelona on a Sunday which is not allowed but got away with it and eventually met with Freddie at a pre arranged spot.

I remember the car park overlooking the Balearic sea with the most stunning blue skies, however we both got out to greet Freddie and we were instantly cut in half by the freezing wind.

The chill must have reduced the cold to minus 30 or more. The brothers almost came to blows as they argued. Eventually Freddie said that we would take his full trailer back to the UK and he would take our empty trailer to collect our consignment of oranges. We would then return with the full load and have less chance of further problems.

Lorries are equipped with a transfer pump and Freddie wanted to transfer our diesel to his Lorry. It was going to plan until but the pipe blasted off and in the process soaked Freddie with ice cold diesel.

The tensions increased again and it was with relief that we turned and face north with our full load.

But disaster struck back in France. We were forced to stop for rest and food. We left the engine running to avoid freezing of the engine. We slept in the cab with the engine running but in the morning the air brakes had frozen and we were not going anywhere.

Temperatures had now plummeted dangerously low and hundreds of lorries were abandoned along the auto routes as engines overheated and air brakes froze.

We by now had very little money, no change of cloths and spent our time taking a hot shower in the service station or huddling around the hand dryer in the toilets.

We ate the last of the pre packed ham in the cold counter and spent the last of our money on hot chocolate from the vending machine.

We were now in deep trouble. No traffic was moving on the auto routes as people stayed at home. Only the cleaner and one member of staff came into the service station but there were no customers only Billy and I and we were getting colder and colder.

The cleaning lady who must have walked in was realising how bad is was becoming and brought us in a cake she had made and some bread and ham.

By this time the British government had started  an emergency relief evacuation for the stranded drivers. They provided financial aid and the ferry companies allowed lorries to cross for free as they sent out supplies and help.

Dave, the brother of Freddie and Billy sent out an old bull nose Volvo truck. Bright orange it was, I will remember it forever. On board were supplies of Bacon, sausages, eggs, bread, chocolate and tea, sugar and milk.

It was a crazy time, one that started out as an adventure to ease the winter doldrums turned into pretty much a fight for survival. In that winter I think there was 9 lorry drivers who died either through hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning because they slept in their trailers with a gas stove and no ventilation.

A concrete bridge collapsed due to the extreme cold and most of Europe came to a standstill.

You can imagine the sheer relief and happiness when that orange Volvo pulled into that service area?

Billy and I jumped up into the hot cab and another Billy cooked the most amazing fry up on a gas ring in the cab.

Both containers of oranges were abandoned at the service station together with our lorry and insurance was claimed for the lost goods.

We arrived back at the Spread Eagle some twelve days later to a party and free beer.