Hello! Is it me you’re looking for? Probably not, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to do (either that or you read a different blog…oh, wait, don’t do that…well, you can. Just do it later). Well, you may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been absent for the last couple of weeks, because I’ve been on my summer holiday. Yeah, I know, it wouldn’t have killed me to write a blog or two but if you rearrange the words in this cleverly deconstructed sentence, you’ll understand that I had very good reasons why this was simply impossible: ‘Be couldn’t arsed I‘. I’ve been on a road trip around Europe, no less – well, some of Europe. But suffice to say, I’ve upped the ‘places I’ve been to’, so I can now officially tick a few more countries off my list. On our itinerary was France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. A ship from Dover to Calais was the first step to our European tour. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, I almost didn’t make it anywhere ‘foreign’ at all…
Everything had gone to plan; bags were packed, passports and the ferry booking documents from Dover to Calais all accounted for, Euros had been obtained (the day before the EU referendum too, so at a great exchange rate – go me!), and the cats were packed off to stay with Grandma for two weeks. Nothing could go wrong! Except that it did. We set off to catch our 2am ferry in plenty of time. There shouldn’t have been much on the road, so no problems were envisaged, and at first there were none. At first. It was nothing out of the ordinary; driving into the back of traffic. On Britain’s motorways and duel carriageways, it happens. The strange thing was, it was midnight. And the traffic, well, it wasn’t slow-moving; it had stopped dead. And we were seven miles from the port of Dover.
Okay, we thought. We’ve over two hours before we need to catch our ferry – Dover is only a few miles up the road, we’ll be fine. But it wasn’t fine. The traffic would begin to move up ahead, everybody turned on their engines, moved a few yards, and then it would stop-still again. For half an hour or more. And after a while, our ample time was eaten away. We missed our check-in time. Then we missed our ship. As soon as our phones could find internet, my husband and I began frantically searching to see what was going on. It was the fault of French border guards doing stringent passport checks, slowing down passengers getting onto their ships. The Nice terror attack had only happened a week before, and whilst on a petrol stop halfway to Dover, we had heard about a mass shooting in Munich (which turned out not to be terror related, but nobody knew that at the time). English schools had broken up earlier that day and everybody was off to Europe. The combination was catastrophic. And we honestly hadn’t known a thing about it until we drove into the back of that traffic on the dark A20 that night.
So we tried to be stoical about it, we had two anxious kids in the back of the car wanting to be on holiday. ‘P&O ferries will just have to put us on the next ship, it’ll be fine’. But as the hours ticked by, our progress was non-existent. We missed the next ship. And the next. Bursts of movement in the traffic would happen sporadically, perhaps only once an hour, sometimes the driver ahead had fallen asleep at the wheel, you couldn’t get past him, the next lane would move on a bit, but yours was at a standstill. So your hourly move was missed. That happened to us twice. At one point, the traffic stopped moving entirely for over four hours (I’m not exaggerating). Drivers just gave up and went to sleep at the wheel. It was only when dawn light broke that the traffic began moving a little. The ferry companies must have stopped running the ferries overnight.
I honestly thought we’d at least make a morning ferry, I told the kids so. But it just didn’t happen. The heat of the sun steadily grew during the course of the next morning and afternoon. You couldn’t run your car to have air-con, because your car wasn’t going to move for an hour or so. At every stop, people would climb out of their cars and sit on the embankments at the side of the road. Some people had tiny children in their cars. Some people had no food and water. And there was no way out. There was once a slip road that a few drivers up ahead took to leave the desperate situation, only for us to see the same cars reversing back up the slip road to re-join us on our road to hell. Every road into Dover port was at a standstill. You couldn’t leave if you wanted to. Eventually, at around lunchtime, the decision had been made to close the other carriageway and the coastguards drove by in their jeeps giving out large bottles of water. It was one of the hottest days of the year. The tailbacks (throughout the night and morning) now spanned thirty miles.
The call of nature soon reared its ugly head. And urinating on a dual carriageway is not as much fun as you’d imagine. There was absolutely no undergrowth on the embankments to speak of; nothing you could successfully hide in, anyway, without revealing your lily-white arse to a captive audience of hundreds. Eventually we decided on opening the driver’s-side car door and the same-side passenger’s car door and squatting down on the tarmac (not too low, mind you, or that self same lily-white arse could still be visible). Luckily the oncoming traffic on the opposite carriageway was almost non-existent. But then, to micturate (aka to piss, if we don’t feel like being all technical) on tarmac is not as easy as peeing on soil (say, in a forest – we’ve all done that). On tarmac or concrete, the pee splashes back up at you and dampens the bottoms of your trousers. My eldest daughter physically couldn’t do it – I even held a blanket up to shield her from anything that should pass. But she had stage fright by then, so no fluids were forthcoming. Not so for us over-forties, we had to go. Fortunately for us, nobody needed to defecate for the entire journey. Shall we just say sh*it and be done with it? Yes, push the boat out (pardon the pun).
In desperation, I turned to social media for a bit of distraction (whenever I could find internet). I told Twitter my tale of woe (as my husband and I had agreed on a blanket ban of Facebook whilst on holidays – which was a shame, as Facebook is perfect for that type of whinging). Never mind that my husband had a ‘Whatsapp’ conversation running with the entire staff at his work to take his mind off things, I had to content myself with a bit of ‘Instagram’, which also shares to my Twitter account. Innocuously, I had said:-
To which, some tosspot (who I don’t even know) replied (and this is almost verbatim):- ‘F*ckwits drive to Dover and are surprised’. Well, this ‘f*ckwit’ hadn’t known about the traffic – nothing at all until we became a part of it! I wish I’d screen-shotted the comment to ‘out’ the tosspot (‘tosspot‘ is NOT the word I want to use, but I think you guys could be a little too delicate to handle my navvy-like potty-mouth when I’m angry. And that’s to your credit). But I wasn’t thinking of blog-fodder at the time. Believe you me, I’m not above using this blog to ruthlessly persecute Twitter trolls, but I was already in a rage, so deleted the comment. But not before reporting him and blocking the offending tosspot (I’d been stuck in a car for countless hours, there was piss on bottoms of my trousers; I was capable of far, far worse). I hope Twitter shuts the tosser’s account- that’ll teach him. So I couldn’t even expect succour from my beloved social media. Oh Facebook, how I needed you that day.
Anyway, we eventually reached the port sixteen hours after leaving home. There was only a mere two hour wait there whilst passport checks went on. When we passed the checkpoint (French border control had evidently given up by this point and drafted in British police), my husband held up our four passports. Only the maroon passport spines were visible, but the policeman cheerily waved us through. I swear to God; he didn’t even look at them. ‘I went to bed in my car, I’ve pissed three times on the duel carriageway; look at my f*cking passport, damn you!’. And at about 4pm in the afternoon, fourteen hours after our intended ship had sailed, our ferry finally set out for Calais. So that’s what happened; a nightmarish scenario that you see on the news from time to time – but not something you think will ever happen to you. A day of our hard-earned holiday had been lost. Okay, nobody died. But I did suffer, so do feel free to pity me. It’s scarred me for life – traffic will forever instil fear in me. I don’t think I’ll ever chose to travel by ferry again. At least when delayed at an airport (although awful), you can mill around duty free, sleep flat on the floor; a rolled up bag for a pillow, and piss in an actual toilet.Your trouser legs almost always remain virtually unscathed. We’re not happy that what happened was allowed to happen – we’ll be claiming on our travel insurance; we and all those other poor holiday-makers certainly deserve some compensation. I’ll let you know what transpires. I’ll put it towards another trip; I need a holiday after that…holiday.
PS: Thanks to my husband who stayed awake for 36 hours and did that awful drive.
PPS: Apologies for the blog-rage. Next week I shall be in more jovial spirits, and there will almost certainly be less swearing. I’d imagine.