I left it last week that we were in our team meeting. We'd dealt with matters relating to start readiness, then got around to receiving everybody’s payment. My contribution was part of what my wife and I put in at the beginning and the three guys who were doing a 30 day stage had their £6,000 ready. I asked the additional two guys who were also doing a 30 day stage for their £6,000 and that's when it all went badly wrong. They told us they had only budgeted for £5,000 and that’s all they could pay. My reply was 'you were at all the meetings when we discussed and agreed the contributions, didn’t you read the minutes?' They were adamant all they were going to pay was £5,000 and no amount of discussion was going to persuade them otherwise.
Why had they waited until that moment, they knew we had enough problems, heaven help us. The guys who had already agreed the payment suggested they pay the full amount and the other two pay their £5,000. As I listened to what was being said, I thought to myself, shall I say what I would really like to say or should I try and hold everything together, for the sake of the project. That was when I made the only decision I could under the circumstances and said that if they are only paying £5,000 each then everyone else pays the same. Thanks to the inconsiderate action of two people they effectively wiped a further £5,000 of our already reduced budget.
Time was running out, we only had six crew instead of eight, and the budget was down from £60,000 to £40,000, how many knocks could I take.
We had no crew for stages 1 and 2 and about this time I was informed by one of the founder members that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would need immediate treatment so he could not go. That was a great loss, I was looking forward to his company on the journey. Surely nothing else could go wrong. Things didn’t look good at this stage. I desperately needed a crew to drive stage 1 and there were no takers. A day or so later the phone rang, it was one of the guys who had pulled out earlier, he said I hear you might need crew for stage 1, he told me he and a friend would do it. What a relief! Two weeks to go and we finally had crews for stages 1, 3, and 4. Myself and the cameraman would do stage 2.
Looking back over the past two years, it seemed as though there was a problem of one sort or another dropping into my lap every week to sort out. It continued to be like that leading up to departure day and throughout the journey. There were no shortage of problems or issues for me to deal with as we travelled.
Two weeks before departure day March 31st.. Everything was checked and rechecked to make sure we were ready to load the vehicles when the time came. Roland and Keith were all ready to drive the first stage. I then contacted the guy I hoped would be our cameraman for stage one and was told that he could no longer make it. A week or so to go and we had no cameraman, “will it never end”. I phoned Maureen who handles our Press and PR and told her that we had no cameraman and didn't have a lot of time to find anyone now. She suggested she put an ad on Facebook and see what happens. A week later she phoned me to say someone had replied and would I talk to him, which I did. I made contact, and for the purposes of this article I will refer to the cameraman as Tom. We discussed the project and I explained to him, as cameraman, he would be required to take care of all the filming while he was with us.
Not knowing much about the film business and I only spoke to Tom briefly, I thought it prudent to ask our film people and Keith who manages the web site to talk to him and come back to me to let me know if they thought he will be up to the job. The reports came back and the general feeling was he had the experience and could probably do the job. Not being in a position to be choosy, I called him back to have another chat. I needed to know if we could sit in my Jimny for long periods of time together day after day, and come out at the other end as friends. I asked a lot of questions to get a feel of the person at the other end of the phone. As I said, it was not the time to be choosy so I invited him to join our merry band. On reflection I should have known better. When questioning Tom told me everything I wanted to hear, nobody is that perfect. Yes he had been a cameraman at some time, but he also had many other jobs and hadn’t worked at anything for a long time before he received my call. And that’s not all. I was to find out later that he was taking antidepressants to control his mood swings. That’s all I needed!
A day or two before departure. I had done all the checking I was going to do. What we didn’t have we go without. All I could think of was that on Sunday we will be off on the journey of a lifetime, not knowing what may come. I would need to travel around 7,000 miles and be at a place called Novosibirsk in Russia no later than the 9th May to meet Graham and Mike who would join me for stage three. The thought of not being there to meet them was constantly on my mind.
Ready or not, it was departure day, March 31st. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for some time, I could remember standing by LC02 in the drive thinking, have I forgotten anything, is what I had put together going to work, or be a total mess when I leave, what will my wife and family think of me. All these questions and a lot more continuously buzzing around in my head. I didn’t feel good but I got in the car and drove out of the drive to be immediately confronted with a road accident. It had just happened. Bits of the two cars involved were still spinning around in the middle of the road. The people were all right so I drove around the accident as I couldn’t be late for the departure reception.
I was pleased the way the reception came together, everybody was there, all the guys, our families, sponsors and supporters Press and TV. Roland, Keith and Tom the cameraman were there so I knew we could start. We shook hands and dealt with the speeches and posed for pictures. The hard part was to say good bye to our families and friends. I felt bad at leaving my wife Vi, we have been married for fifty two years and the longest we have been apart was for three weeks in all that time, so I wasn’t exactly her favourite. It was time to go, I gave Vi one last kiss and a hug got in the car and started to roll forward, I checked to see that LC03 was behind, at last we were on our way.
I felt sad as I drove out of Southampton, but we were soon on the M3 cruising along at 55 mph, the tension that had been with me for as long as I could remember had eased, I looked at the speedometer and seeing that we had travelled ten miles, chuckling to myself and saying out loud we have done 10 miles, only have another 19,000 miles to go. I chatted to Tom as we drove, outlining what lay ahead of us, and before we knew it we were checking in at the channel tunnel. An hour later we were travelling through France on our way to Bruxells and the Novotel overnight stop.
We arrived at around 7.30pm put the bags in our rooms and headed for the bar and a well-deserved beer. I felt much better, we were on our way, all the months of preparation were behind me and I could focus on what lay ahead. I thanked Roland and Keith for joining me for stage one and enabling the journey to start and go ahead more or less as planned. Chatting during the evening it was clear to me that I couldn’t be travelling with better companions we laughed at everything. It was just what I needed. Before turning in for the night we had a brief discussion about our schedule for the next day. I explained our first stop in the morning would be at the European Parliament and hopefully we would find one of our MEP’s to ask what has happened to the 12 billion we paid in last year. After we had given them a tongue lashing, we would drive to the Nurburgring to keep a promise I made to myself to drive the two Jimnys around the old race circuit.
Monday 1st April day 2. We were up bright and early with a good breakfast inside us and we hit the road for the European Parliament. I commented to Tom that the traffic seems light for a Monday morning. We found our way to the main parliament building to find that everything was locked up and no people wandering about. We parked the cars and found an official looking person to ask why everything was closed. We were told it was a national holiday and to come back tomorrow.
Pity, I was all keyed up to give somebody a piece of my mind, probably just as well, I tend to get carried away. I probably avoided being locked up for the night for saying something I shouldn’t have. On the other hand, the place being closed meant that we had it to ourselves for filming. Tom was already filming our disappointment at not being asked to have dinner with the president, and seeing that the camera was rolling we slipped into our acting mode. You know, all teeth and grinning like Cheshire cats, this went on until Tom said that he had all he needed so made our way to the Nurburgring expecting to be there at 2.00pm.
We made our way out of Bruxelles and had been driving for about two hours. Tom had been noticeably silent during this time and kept turning in his seat to look in the back of the vehicle. This went on for a little longer, then he suddenly popped the question, “where did I put the camera bag”. I looked at him for a second or two while I tried to think. “Why are you asking me?” I replied, “I haven’t handled the filming equipment at all and the last time I saw the bag it was over your shoulder at the European Parliament”. Tom had another look in the back then sat in his seat and looked out of the window.
I waited for a few moments for him to tell me what the problem was, but he just looked out of the window. “What’s the problem Tom” I asked, “ I can’t find the camera bag” he said. Luckily we had communicators which allowed us to communicate between vehicles. I called the guys to ask them to stop to see if Tom had put the camera bag in their car. We search both vehicles but found no bag. I questioned Tom to find out when he had it last, it appeared he took the camera bag with the camera in it, out of our car when we were talking to the official at the parliament, did the filming got back in the car and we drove off leaving the bag behind. I said to Tom “didn’t it occur to you that something was wrong? We have been driving for two hours and you have been holding the camera on your lap all that time. Had you established a routine to put the camera in the bag when not in use this would not have happened”.
When buying the camera bag I made a point of purchasing a good quality and of course expensive one that would protect camera when in the rough stuff. My dilemma now was, we had been driving for two hours away from the bag. If went back it would take two hours, the bag may or may not be there when we arrive, and another two hours to get back to where we are at the moment. If we go back we will miss our appointment at the Nurburgring and a chance of driving around the old race circuit. At this point I am only thinking that we have lost the bag. It didn’t occur to me at the time, to ask Tom if there was anything else in the bag. He knew it contained all the kit we needed to support filming, such as, plug adaptors, battery charges, cables and camera accessories and so on. He never told me. I found that out for myself in the middle of Kazakhstan …... to be continued