Monday, 2 November 2015

The Man Who Forgot His Passport

Exit checks?  It's a paperwork formality - at least it seems so.  The UK border cops are rarely sitting in their cabin late on a Friday evening.  And if they are, they languidly wave you through at the sight of the proffered maroon booklet.  The chances of there being someone awake in the French cabin are slim to the point of emaciation. 

Except tonight. 

Tonight was the night we arrived behind the guy who had forgotten to have his passport ready. 

He climbed out of the car and opened his boot.  It was packed up to the roof with stuff.  A small bag for him.  A small bag for her.  And 47 bags for the tiny sleeping infant in the back seat. 

Realising that finding the passport might take some time, he gestured politely  to me to try the next lane.  Surely the first French man ever to gesture politely to un anglais?

I reversed, manoeuvred and found the douanier in the next lane had just this moment decided that enough was enough.  "Fermé!,"  he cried.  I manoeuvred back again. 

By now mum had got out of the car too and was rummaging for passports.  The task seemed hopeless.  Surely they would have to unpack all this stuff?  We watched as they searched the obvious bags.  No joy. 

Eventually our douanier lost patience.  Do you have any ID at all?,  he demanded.  Monsieur patted down his pockets, pulled out his wallet and showed his library ticket - or possibly his carte d'identité, I couldn't tell.  Bon. 

After a short repacking interlude, on they drove, no doubt arguing about whose fault it was that the passport might be in the bag at the bottom of the pile containing the used nappies (good security ). 


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Unexpectedly Painless

Well that was unexpectedly painless.  We took the Friday off and headed for France after work on Thursday.   And although the advance warning signs said that the M25 was horribly clogged up clockwise,  we were of course going anticlockwise.   And when we got there, the constipation had gone away. 

Which left just the tunnel.  No delays.  In fact we actually caught the S train instead of the T we were booked on.  So an hour ahead of time.  Result!

The newspapers and even ITN News have been blaming delays on the would-be immigrants in Calais.   When of course the immigrants have been taking advantage of delays caused by striking ferry workers to stow away on lorries.  But there were neither immigrants  nor ferryworkers visible when we arrived.  What we did see was a lot of extra security. 

We were directed to  turn left off the train and went the wrong way along what looked like a new road which we hadn't seen before.   I think it must be part of the big new investment for freight traffic  - I wrote about this a few weeks ago.  Do pay attention at the back!

We drove through extra security gates manned by Eurotunnel bods, and past cop vans and gendarmes,  obviously on the qui vive for people trying to break into the premises.   But there were no delays...  Straight through and onto the A16 autoroute south, albeit from a different direction than usual. 

The return journey was a bit more wearing.  We had a delay of about an hour and a half.  No obvious reason for it.  But I had a nice chat with a man from Tunbridge Wells who was just back from a week in Burgundy, and then a fellow from a radio station in the Netherlands came over to do a vox pop about migrants.  So the time passed quickly! 

I told the Dutchman the story of Dick Whittington, and how 600 years ago he came to London because he had heard that the streets were paved with gold.   Interesting how people who haven't been to London still seem to believe it!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Joy of Stack

Most of the time, most days of the year, cars and lorries trundle down the motorway and through the tunnel.  But sometimes things go wrong, and it's time for Operation Stack.  Operation What, I hear you say?  Basically it's Nightmare City, baby. 

In winter it's the weather and the ferries can't run.  In summer it tends to be strikes.  But in any event the traffic keeps coming and Kent Police close off a section of the M20 to use as a lorry park.  This is fairly normal, and I dare say the locals shrug their shoulders, mutter "Typical! " and get on with their lives.  But if you're not a local, here's what happens:

Soon after leaving Bristol you see a sign on the overhead gantry to tell you "Operation Stack M20 closed J11 to J9"  which is a bit of a bind as the tunnel is J11a.  There is however no further information in advance - that's the last sign you see until you are stuck in traffic in the run up to where the M20 splits off the M25.  Not even when you get to the M25, where you might expect quite a lot of traffic to be going to the M20.  Finally, with about 5 miles to go, there is another sign telling cars to take the A2 M2.  By the time we reached it, traffic was queueing back.  And there were lots of last minute lane changes as people realised what was going on. 

So you get into lane and follow the signs for the A2 M2.  And trundle along until you see a sign that says M20 Channel Tunnel.  On no account follow that clear and obvious instruction - because it will direct you right back to the section of motorway which is closed.  I say that because I am the man who followed the signs.  Do not follow my example.   Ignore the signs and head for Dover.  Then double back to Folkestone and the tunnel. 

If you don't you find yourself in a queue on the M20 as the cops take all the traffic off at J9 Lenham, the turn for Maidstone services.  Lorries get put back onto the motorway, in a sort of hellish waiting area which must be enormous fun for the drivers.  Cars get sent off round the back roads of Kent, queueing for miles until eventually they emerge back onto the M20. 

Considering that this happens fairly often and has done for years, the warning and direction signs are  lousy.  I was annoyed that I followed the signs to avoid the M20 and then the signs directed me back onto the closed road.  If the motorway is closed they should change the sign to say Follow Diversion. 

Then when we came off the M20 it was hard to tell that there were two lanes and certainly there were no signs to say cars right lane, lorries left lane.  Driving through the back roads the diversion signs were there but they were just little temporary signs pulled out of the boot of a cop car.  

I got the impression that nobody can agree who should pay for traffic control, so the cops are stuck with doing the best they can with a budget of tuppence halfpenny.   Put up proper signs to warn drivers and they will be able to get into the right lane in good time.  Traffic flows more easily with fewer delays.  Other counties can deal with diversions, why can't Kent? 


Friday, 5 June 2015

Good News for Lorry Fans

They are building something new at Folkestone - as you drive in they have dug away a great chunk of hillside, and are starting to construct something on the left of the access road.  What can it be? 

M. Jacques Gounon - the grand fromage of Eurotunnel - wrote a letter to shareholders which you can read online here

Most of it is a gripe about the annoying habits of the British government - ah, Jacques, vous en avez aper├žu, hein? - in failing to invest in stuff or support private companies who want to.  He also tells us about his new flock of sheep.  But next to his letter is a link to a video for fans of diggers, lorries and trains.

Seems they are spending a big wodge (€70m, I think they said) on new trains for lorry transport through the tunnel.  The road-works are making room for an extra two lanes for lorries, to the left of the lanes for cars and as far as I can see having minimal impact on you, and most importantly, me.

Then they are building a new check-in for lorries, terminal building, lorry park and so on.  They reckon on 20% more lorries going through the tunnel - and are spending their money on making it happen.

That'll annoy UKIP!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Restaurant Review - La Garenne

I'm going to cheat and post a review I did on Trip Advisor - I'm a bit pressed for time...

La Garenne, Hesdin

If you are passing, it's definitely worth a detour

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Exit Checks

Oh dear, Oh dear

They want to check us outgoing from the UK.   Check out this report from the BBC.

You know what that means. 

In France they have about 12 booths, maybe more, and there are still queues at busy times when the Borders Agency checks our passports inbound to the UK.

Outbound from the UK there is currently one booth, two lanes, where they could check passports.  At the time I travel - usually around 2130 on a Friday evening - the Brits have almost always gone home, and if the douaniers are still there, they wearily wave me through without so much as glancing at my passport. 

This is not good news...

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Barcode Scans

They scanned my barcode on the way over to France this weekend.  A curiously pointless exercise I thought, given that I was already aboard.  They can't stop the train and chuck me off until we reach France, by which time it's a bit too late. 

So I asked the bloke doing it.  Dogs, it seems.  He scans my ticket, and if I have already crumpled it up and added it to the mess on the floor of the back seat, he can type in my licence plate.  If I have paid for my doggy, a little paw print illuminates on his handset.  But if not, and the back of the car is full of sleeping canines, then what?

Well, he doesn't confiscate Rommel the Rottweiler.  Nor does he check my trouserlegs for ferrets.  He ticks something on his app, and HQ is alerted to send me a stroppy email. 

I can see why Eurotunnel might want to check up - they charge £16 per dog per crossing.  So if you are crossing at an offpeak time in February, with two dogs in the back, you are pretty much doubling the crossing fee. 

This seems a bit unfair on the dog owner.  Not that I am one, I'm more a cat person myself.  But I could take six big hefty rugby playing mates to France in the back of my Espace at no extra charge, whereas if I was taking Wee Jock the Highland terrier, Eurotunnel would stick me for 32 quid. 

Doesn't seem fair.