Here Is What Not To Do

 I have received several emails from people who enjoyed reading about Alison’s track meets in Europe. Indeed it was a very good week. It was a week of threes. We drove 3000 kilometres, visited three cities and Alison ran three personal bests; one a New Zealand record that lasted for three decades, another a IAAF Olympic qualifying time and the third a personal best time.

When my daughter Jane was beginning to show promise as a swimmer I thought she might benefit from a similar journey around the European World Cup swimming circuit. That year the meets were in Glasgow Scotland, Malmo Sweden, Paris France, Gelsenkirchen Germany and Imperia Italy. I decided we would do the first two meets staying in hotels and flying, the same as everyone else. But from then on we would hire a campervan in Amsterdam and drive to Paris, Gelsenkirchen, Imperia and back to Amsterdam for the flight home; a drive of 3700 kilometres. It would be a brilliant experience. All in one, transport and accommodation, not to mention the thrill Jane would get from a road journey through Europe and especially seeing the majesty of the Swiss Alps. You can’t get that experience from 35,000 feet.

Jane swam some good PBs in Glasgow and Malmo. Her early form suggested some really good swims were likely later in the tour. After Malmo we flew to Amsterdam, collected our campervan and set off for Paris; a six hour drive we should be there by midnight with a day to rest before the Paris meet. However life is not as easy as that. You see half way between Amsterdam and Paris there is the Belgium town of Antwerp. It was dark and silly David got on to the wrong motorway and spent the rest of the night driving east away from Paris. I only realised my error when I saw a sign saying “Welcome to Luxemburg”. A petrol station attendant got us back on the road to Paris. By then 650 kilometres and a full day had been added to our journey. We arrived in Paris at 7.00pm; with only 12 hours before Jane had to race.

Jane did a sterling job. Somehow she managed a personal best in the 50 breaststroke. The 100 and 200 were not as good. That was certainly the coach’s fault. The Paris pool is amazing. It’s a 50 metre pool built on the first floor. The administration offices and changing rooms are all under 660,000 gallons of water.

We set off the next morning for Gelsenkirchen in Germany. There were four days before the next meet so we decided break the trip and spend two days in Laon; the original capital of France. We had been told the town had a lovely 25 metre pool built high on a hill overlooking vast amounts of French farmland. It is a beautiful town. We parked beside the pool and planned two days training and exploring Laon.

But on the first night, at about three in the morning, someone began banging on the campervan door. Against Jane’s wise advice I open the door. Fortunately the chap outside seemed friendly enough and spoke good English. He explained that he was with his girlfriend. They had parked their car in a dark field behind the pool and they were now stuck in the muddy field. Could we tow the car out with the campervan? I asked why he didn’t call the police for help. He clearly didn’t want to do that. So I said we should wait until first light and I would tow him out. He agreed.

At 6.30am I drove the campervan around to the back of the pool. Sure enough the car was there. So were three police cars and about six heavily armed French gendarmes. I turned the campervan around and left them to it. The moral of that story is don’t open a campervan door to strangers in the middle of the night.

The German leg of the World Cup tour is always a quality meet. The Gelsenkirchen pool doesn’t really do it justice. It has seen many better days and is only five lanes. We almost missed Jane’s first race. The campervan got a puncture. By the time I got it changed – I’m no mechanic – the meet had started. There was no time to warm-up for her first race. She was clearly beginning to tire from the endless drama. She did her best; better than her best actually, but her times were modest.

The next day we set off on the long journey from north Germany to the Mediterranean coastal town of Imperia. We passed through Frankfurt and were looking forward to climbing through the Swiss Alps. But alas it was not to be. A loud bang and our campervan swerved all over the motorway. We had a second flat tire. I hadn’t repaired the first flat tire. We had no spare and it was a Sunday afternoon. There was nothing we could do until Monday morning. A breakdown truck delivered the campervan to a tire repair business and Jane and I slept the night in a German industrial park; so much for the splendour of the Swiss Alps.

The next morning, with typical German efficiency, our two flat tyres were repaired. We now had a time problem. The meet started in 18 hours and we were still a very long way from the Mediterranean coast. We set off and sadly passed through the much anticipated Swiss Alps in darkness. At 1.00am we arrived at the car park beside the Imperia Pool. Jane only had 7 hours before the meet was due to begin. We had just fallen asleep when outside there was the scream of police sirens driving backwards and forwards outside the campervan. I went outside to find out what was going on. A helpful police man told me they used the empty carpark at night to do practice drills. They left two hours later with sirens still blaring.

Jane was dead tired. Where she found the energy to swim a PB in the 100 medley, in what was then a Wellington Age Group record, I will never know. As soon as she was done we began the 1400 kilometre journey back to Amsterdam and our flight to New Zealand. I am delighted to tell you that passed without incident. Unfortunately when we picked up our car in Auckland it wouldn’t start. I thought it was a flat battery and called the AA. The problem was diagnosed as far more serious. We arrived home in Napier in an AA tow truck with the car loaded on the back.

For years Jane refused to let me even discuss that trip. I could hardly blame her. All her next trips to European World Cup meets used hotels and airplanes, just like everyone else.

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