The Hamburg experience was great and everything, but there was a downside. I had a really busy week, and after the match had to get back to England to run focus groups in Leeds the next night.
So a 245am start on Wednesday, a couple of hours of sleep here and there during the day (but not real sleep), a sober afternoon on the reeperbahn while everyone else got plastered, a Europa League final, then a crazy few hours in which I drove a left hand drive car for the first time.
This was pretty weird. As the final whistle sounded I hurtled from the stadium (Toby and Matt didn’t have to rush back so had a hotel booking in Hamburg), found a shuttle bus, waited for the right train at the station, headed back into town, found the car (yes!), then… how do I drive this?
I have been cursed with an inhibiting nonchalence concerning directions for as long as I can remember. If I have to be somewhere I drive there and assume that I’ll work things out when I get there, forgetting that cities aren’t villages and finding things is not always easy.
Equally, that night I figured that escaping from Hamburg would be straightforward enough. And it should have been, but an hour later I was still being guided by some vague magnetic intuition. I hadn’t a clue, I was petrified of doing something calamitous to the car. I’m driving on the left, remember, which isn’t a big deal for most people, but after 20 odd hours without sleeping, in a strange city, at midnight… well I was worried and getting frustrated.
Then I recognised something and was on my way, the long, straight autobahn from Hamburg to Berlin.
This was mad. By now I was reaching 24 hours without much sleep, and feeling strangely delirious. The road went on and on and on. I drove fast, I slowed down when my eyes were wobbling, then fast again when I felt better. I tried open windows for alertness, I tried the radio, but the windows weren’t enough to jolt this tired mind into life, and the radio was full of German pop with lyrics a thirteen year old would be ashamed of (“our love is like a mountain/ the river flows like our hearbeat/ I am going to soar like an eagle/ and then we’ll get something nice to eat”) and frankly it felt like some kind of bad dream.
I stopped for a nap. A service station. I hear voices around me among the trees, the lorries. Paranoia. I can’t sleep here. What if these voices belong to service station bandits? What indeed? Best get going.
Then my eyes go again and I feel like I’m really tired now. I pull over. My mobile phone alarm will wake me, but I set it wrongly, and instead of a 20 minute shut-eye I got over an hour. Yikes.
I hit the road again. Berlin outskirts. Go round. Service station. Light now outside, weird strip lighting twilight zone inside. They’re preparing breakfast for the people who are going to get up in a while. I feel like I’m from a different planet at this point, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 1, except with an easier mission. Which way to your airport?
Back in the car. Filled up with petrol (yes, Hertz, your petrol tank was 3/4 full, b@stards!), then completed the journey.
I checked in on autopilot, looked for somewhere good to sleep. There wasn’t anywhere so I selfishly took three precious seats and slept on them all. Then the plane, then the drive to Leeds, then two focus groups, then, after what is now about 43 hours, the deepest sleep I’ve ever known.
PS at some point in all of that a red light flashed in the trees. Last week I got a letter from Hertz, telling me they’d had an enquiry from the German police (that’ll be £21.50, say Hertz). Then yesterday Hade chirps that I’ve a letter from Germany. It’s the police. Caught doing 123km/h. 76.43 mph, on an autobahn, and that’s speeding? What nonsense. I thought there was no speed-limit. Anyway, it’s a remarkably small fine (as befits the crime), so not a huge issue, but still.
PPS my plans to frame Matt (who was a named driver and drove the first leg to Hamburg) for the speeding fine are scuppered by those pesky Germans and their far-reaching technology. Caught red handed.