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Gaan the Distance: Customs causes despair

Two delighted travellers who had — finally — received the necessary customs pass.

Mark Harcus, a journalist with The Orcadian, and Paddie O’Neill, an HGV driver with McAdie and Reeve, are currently heading to Romania with a lorry and trailer jam-packed full with aid items for the people of Ukraine.

As part of the trip, and in addition to updates on social media, Mark will be chronicling each day in a daily diary.

You can chart their progress at: https://glympse.com/!gaanthedistance

 

Summing up Thursday, May 19, on this trip in one word is easy.

Frustrating.

Holed up in a car park in an industrial estate in Duiven, Netherlands for the day, with little to do but wait, laid our plans to hit Romania on Friday in tatters.

On Wednesday, we arrived in the outskirts of the small town to check in at customs, who would then process our load and provide us with the necessary clearance so that we could proceed on our journey.

Already playing catch up after our delay at Dover on Tuesday, we unfortunately arrived too late, as they closed at 6pm, but we were assured that we would be seen straight away when they reopened at 8am the following morning.

So after a broken sleep in stifling heat, and a very nice shower — the best yet — in the nearby truck park, we duly wandered over with our paperwork when we were told to move our lorry a bit up the road outside the customs office.

It could take up to two hours we were told, so we parked up and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

At around 10.30am, after the realisation that we hadn’t left any contact details, another visit was made to the agents’ office.

While there, we received a bit more information as to the process. Customs apparently had two-and-a-half hours to check and examine our load, and confirm that it corroborated with what the papers in Amsterdam said.

In the meantime, as we waited for this check to be carried out, we got speaking to some of our neighbours.

Directly beside us was a Turkish lorry driver, who had an excellent culinary set-up, bringing almost everything, with the exception of the kitchen sink, in a side locker of his vehicle.

His English was only slightly better than my Turkish, but he was very friendly, offering us two “chais” which we duly said yes to.

Meanwhile, a Romanian fella, driving a van of pharmaceuticals also had an equally-excruciating wait, him telling us that this was not normal.

The Turkish driver with his impressive set-up. He was cooking chorizo in a frying pan over a gas cooking stove.

Customs officials duly came and went, checking other vehicles and lorries, and sending them on their merry way.

Still, our wait ticked into a third hour.

By 11.30am, patience wearing thin, a phonecall to the agents was made, asking for an update. We were told that a check still had to be done, and they were waiting on it.

In the interim, we called Finlay at Blysthwood to ask for advice, as he had been keeping in touch throughout the day.

A customs official — an actual officer who was carrying out checks — even enquired as to why we were still waiting there, before showing us that we weren’t even on his system of vehicles to check!

By 1.15pm, it was getting ridiculous. After yet another visit, I was told that, despite two customs officers being in the vicinity, there was no officer available to carry out a check.

Explaining this, I was politely told the difference between “a customs official who performs checks” and “someone I may have spoken to who just stamps a bit of paper, and may have been out for a cigarette break . . .” There was no point in arguing with him.

After informing me that the check had been signed off, we were to wait for another 30 minutes before we received the necessary papers from Amsterdam.

At 4pm, we were still waiting.

Thoughts began to turn to the pretty dire prospect of staying another night in Duiven, and not making it into Germany whatsoever.

Eventually, after more than eight hours, it was through Finlay that the impasse, for whatever reason, was broken.

He had spoken to a contact in Amsterdam, who in turn contacted the office — who confirmed that the paperwork was apparently done!

There had been no word through to us, despite having our contact number — and when we arrived at the office, our bundle of papers, which we had passed to them at 8am, lay in a rather crude bundle, beside a very closed window.

The only difference on the papers was one red customs print on a sheet of paper.

Frustrated and disappointed to see a full day being wasted by what appeared to be unnecessary hold-ups, and dragging of heels, exactly what the hold up was, I can’t say. A cynic might point to Brexit or the like, but I am yet to clarify this with anyone in the know.

Nevertheless, we were relieved to finally received the confirmation that we could get back on the road.

We set off, quickly crossing the border into Germany, and we’re pushing on as far as we can, as long as Paddie’s legal driving and working time permits him.

Tomorrow, we shall look to plough on into Austria and further afield. But today has probably lost us a day — time we will struggle to make up.

Nevertheless, with our customs checks complete at last, it is onwards and upwards from here!

The wait provided plenty of opportunities to touch base with the folks at home — including a delighted Tom Harcus!