Friday, 13 September 2013

When Day Trips To France Were FUN!

Sealink: Sadly missed on the Dover to Calais route

One of the finest pleasures in life must come from living by the sea, as opposed to living in a landlocked city, miles inland and far away from even a simple stream or brook. What joy it is to stroll along a seafront, breathing in the wonderful salty air, and taking in the aroma of fish and chips. And then, if this isn't enough to get one's juices boiling, how about a day trip to France?

The Channel port of Dover is only a few miles from where I was born and raised,  so therefore the opportunity to get away from it all - if only for a few hours, and by going nowhere further than Calais -was always available to me. So whenever the urge took me by the throat, out came my passport, into the car I got and off to Dover I set, dreaming of another Saturday to be spent bobbing up and down in a floating rust bucket, whilst learning my French and drinking my lager.

And this was a time when day trips to France were fun, and enjoyed by millions of people every year. For this was a time when smoking was permitted inside of the ferry, duty free was just THAT, and a decent English breakfast could be had, whilst being tossed about on the open sea, for just a few pounds.

Arrive at Dover at eight o'clock in the morning. Board the ferry at nine o'clock and wave goodbye to England at half-past nine. Get to the bar, and see before you hundreds of fat Northerners guzzling lager whilst talking loudly. It was impossible to get to the bar, because waiting to be served were fifteen coach-loads of tattooed men from Leeds, desperate to get as much English beer down their throats, before being forced to drink the foreign crap which they feared so much, and which would be waiting for them on the other side of the Channel. So, thirsty, and with not even the chance to get a cup of coffee, a trip to the duty free shop was the only way to kill the time.

But shit! Here we go again, because another fifteen coach-loads of Northerners are busy buying all of  the cigarettes and every can of Fosters lager. The sweat is rolling down my cheeks and I start to feel very ill. I've been bobbing up and down for at least an hour, and I haven't had anything to drink. And the English breakfast I promised myself? Well - you guessed it. The self service cafeteria is bursting at the seems with Northern beasts in search of bacon, sausage and eggs.

I go back to the bar and find a quiet corner to rest my weary body. I look out of the huge window, and smile as I see the French coastline coming into view. I plan to find a restaurant, in some quiet corner of Calais, and enjoy a fine French lunch and a decent glass of wine, away from the forty-five coach loads of Northerners I've sailed across the Channel with. 

When I get to Calais it's raining hard, and what is already an extremely depressing town takes on an even darker image. I think about the time when I once spent a Friday night in Herne Bay, and as I try and find a quiet bistro, I wish that I was somewhere else - except Herne Bay.

Quiet bistros are thin on the ground in Calais, and as my tummy rumbles and the effects of lager deprivation start to kick in, I walk into a grotty restaurant, in the middle of town. I just want something to eat, but more importantly, I need something to drink.

I look at the tatty menu and choose something quintessentially French - a four seasons pizza with extra pineapple topping. I tell the garcon that I'm more thirsty than hungry, and that I would like a large beer straight away, and half a bottle of red wine with my meal. The spotty bugger notes my order and leaves me, returning a few seconds later with a foaming glass of French beer. I light a cigarette and all is well in the world.

Outside, in the heavy rain, a coach pulls up beside the restaurant, and as I drain the last of my beer, and light another cigarette, I'm disappointed to see a coach-load of tourists making a beeline for the restaurant. I look at the side of the coach and sigh. J. M. ARKWRIGHT CONTINENTAL COACH TRAVEL. LEEDS. SOUTH YORKS.

And then THEY come tumbling into the restaurant, in search of anything served with chips and pints and pints of beer. They can't help but shout when they talk, and their bastard children complain that they don't understand the menu. I finish my pizza, pay my bill and run as fast as I can, away from the day-trippers from hell.

Back on the ferry I manage to get served by a very irate barman, who seems to have had his fill of our Northern friends. I enjoy my pint of lager, and as I smoke my cigarette, I remind myself that in a little under two hours I will be back at home, in front of the television, where I will enjoy the wine and cheese I bought at the hypermarket. I then decide that I want a second pint of lager, and as I look around me, at the forty-five coach-loads of day-trippers from hell, I hope that whilst I will be enjoying my supper, those bastards will be stuck in a sixty-mile tailback, on the M25, and that they won't be home until midnight.

Luke Ryman is an author of books about nasty men and harmless people. The last time he sailed across the Channel he was sad to see how times have changed. Gone are the Northerners, gone are the cheap cigarettes and gone is the pleasure of it all.


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