Hello dear Readers – if there are any left! I’m back from my sojourn in the UK: five weeks working, one week holidaying. I’ll tell you more about both as time goes by, but I want to give a big shout out to British Border Control at Dunkerque!!
Now you may well be wondering why. What have British Border Control done to merit such a thing? Well, let me take you back to 6 weeks ago, when the Channel ports had a black pall of smoke hanging over them, thanks to striking French ferry workers, who were burning tyres and forcing Calais to close to all comers.
Non! We are unhappy and so we will make your lives a misery too!
I’d booked my ferry crossing from Calais to Dover, but as the tyre burning was at its peak the day I left, I cancelled that ticket and bought one from Dunkerque to Dover instead. Trundling down the motorway I received regular updates by text from Mr D who was watching the news. As I approached the turning for Dunkerque things started to sound ominous…
“DFDS Ferries are saying the port is still open even though there are strikers there…”
“Tyre burning taking place in Dunkerque…”
“They are still saying the port is open but there are big queues…”
By now I’d reached the outskirts of Dunkerque, and met queues of parked up lorries, all-but-blocking the roundabouts and causing quite some tailback. I squeezed past and discovered that while DFDS might have been saying the port was open, the gendarmes were saying that the roads to the port were most definitely not open. I wasn’t on planning on arguing with a 6 foot gendarme and his gun.
“What shall I do?” I asked him.
The reply was a Gallic shrug, a what-do-I-care expression and the helpful advice “You could try Calais…” Thank you, Sir. Not very helpful.
I realised I wasn’t going to make the crossing I was booked on, so decided to try to find a hotel and rebook my crossing for the next day. Instead of going into Dunkerque, as I thought many people would be trying to do the same thing, I struck off into the countryside and searched for a B&B. Arriving in a small town, I found the Office de Tourism which was shut. So, in desperation, I went nto the only shop that I could see, which was a Pharmacy and said “I know you’re not an Office de Tourism, but do you happen to know if there’s a hotel near here?” The bloke in charge pointed out a small B&B just down the road, and I was lucky that there was a spare room on condition I wasn’t staying for more than one night. Which I sincerely hoped I wasn’t.
My lovely holiday appartment!
In fact it wasn’t a room: it was a small appartment – bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and kitchen, with its own entrance for 48€. I was so relieved! I bought a few groceries in a Netto and settled down. I was rather panicked and upset so instead of simply amending my ticket – although, as it was past the sailing time I mightn’t have been able to do that anyway – I bought a new one for 6 am the following morning. Mr D pointed out the error of my ways and I did feel a bit stupid, but still, what’s done is done! I emailed DFDS asking for a refund on the unused ticket, went for a walk and left it at that.
I planned to wake up at 3 am to give me about 2.5 hours to reach the port in time for the crossing. However, I woke at 12.30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so finally decided to get up and go anyway. (Please note, I had already paid my bill – I wasn’t doing a moonlight flit!) Leaving at 1.00 am I managed to get lost on the dark, not-well-signposted roads (no GPS for me! Just a slightly out of date map!) but finally wiggled my way through the streets of downtown Dunkerque towards the port. I came across a queue of lorries, parked up at the side of the road, so I whizzed past them…but after about a minute or two’s whizzing I realised that there were also cars in the queue, and that in fact this was the queue to get into the port, and I was pushing in!
I’d like to say that I immediately pulled in, but I didn’t; I figured that I’d got this far I might as well carry on until I had to stop. I finally pulled in at the approach to a roundabout, as there were bollards in the centre of the road meaning I couldn’t get past. There was a car with UK plates next to me, so I knocked on the window. It was wound down to reveal a carfull of blokes.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Can we get into the port?”
“You know as much as we do, love” came the reply. “We’re British Border Control, come from Calais to relieve our colleagues who have been stuck at the port all day…We’re waiting for the police to come and escort us.” There was a pause. ” You can tuck in behind us when they come, if you like.”
“Really? You don’t mind?”
“We don’t mind. The French police might though…”
While we waited I mused over what they’d said and decided to go for it. Noting they were wearing luminous yellow gilets over their navy pullovers I put on mine (In France it is obligatory to have these safety gilets in case of breakdown.) Mine didn’t say “BORDER CONTROL” on the back, but I thought it might help give me an air of officialdom.
Then the police van turned up, blue lights flashing, siren going. It turned around and sped off down the wrong side of the road…the BBC car followed, and, after a momentary pause, so did I! I struggled to keep up with them they were going so fast! We went onto a roundabout, which was manned by other police, who waved down the police van that we were following. There was a pause while the police had a discussion, then the policeman standing on guard waved the police van on. He waved the BBC car on. He waved me on – and then realised that there was something not quite correct about me. He started to raise his hand in a “Hang on a minute Madame I’m not sure you should be doing this; kindly stop and explain yourself” kind of way but I wasn’t having any of it and I put my foot down and went! In my rear view mirror I saw another Gallic shrug as I strove to catch up with my saviours!
After another few minutes of manic driving, we rolled up at the Check-in point, where the BBC guys rolled down the car’s windows and gave a cheery wave. With great relief I joined the queue and caught the ferry with plenty of time to spare. How the other cars in the queue had got through I don’t know, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the British Border Control!!
And I got the cost of my second ticket reimbursed!