“look mummy, there’s those people we saw on holiday last year that we walk past every day” “no, it can’t be” “mummy, it IIIIIS”. and it was. they had also just entered the pit of hell that, on this particular day, happened to be the car park at the eurotunnel terminal. we had made good time from norwich and we might even have been early enough to catch an earlier train under the sea. I mean, we were booked on the 11:50, and it was11:10 now, as we slipped off the M20 and headed for the terminal gates, our windows down, singing songs from the shows, with the wind in our hair and thoughts of aquitaine in our heads.
“what’s this hold up?” “I’m not sure. it just looks like there a few people waiting behind these lorries. see? up there? it says ‘freight delays, so we’re alright” “is a megane scenic freight?” “no, it’s an em pee vee, a car” “so we’ll be alright then?” “yes” mind you, this is taking a little while. it’s probably always like this. “it wasn’t like this when I came before. we just went straight through.” oh. we’ll be alright. we’re early.
we’d already planned our route by sticking lots of stickers we found down the back of the sofa onto a huge map of france that was so big we couldn’t unfold it in the car. our first stop was a youth hostel just outside orléans and mme niceperson had confirmed our family room so that we didn’t have to share a bathroom with any strange people or anything like that. ooh no. we had to be there before 11 at night, however, as the reception would close to keep the wolves out, or something, but we’d be there way before then, anyway, frolicking in the meadows eating runny cheese. but this wasn’t quite right. we got to the terminal gate and I’d already written off an early departure when a sign on a faded scrolling lcd pointed out that, in fact, there was a 90 minute delay on all crossings. 90 minutes? that’s an entire video of fawlty towers. ah well. it’s a nice day. we can probably boy a magazine and sit in a park somewhere, under a communications system that will keep us informed regarding every development.
I did think that the little posts with lcd letters were a quite twee little thing. you wait for a letter to appear, and if it’s the same as the one on the cardboard coathanger they gave you at the gate, it’s time for you to go. they didn’t have any letter on right now though. perhaps they only put a letter on there when there’s a new one. “what letter is it?” “there isn’t one, its still just an asterisk” “what’s an asterisk?” “you see that thing there? that’s an asterisk” “no it isn’t” “yes it is. what do you think it is?” “its a star” “yes, well, I suppose it is a star”. we’ve been waiting about an hour now. its a nice day and everything, and its ok sitting on the grass here, as more and more cars come past, to find that, actually, the car park is completely full and so they’ll park on the grass. where you are. there’s not been a letter at all. we should probably see what’s going on. and my sandwiches will be getting warm in the boot. I hate it when my sandwiches get warm in the boot. no, it’s an asterisk. I told you that already. sorry.
inside the terminal building there’s a froth of activity, mainly around eurotunnel employees giving out drinks vouchers, wearing pained expressions. the terminal building is much like any other terminal building in the UK, for any other mode of transport. in other words, its a bit rubbish, and you want to leave. except the information desk is in here, as is whsmith, of course, and I’m hankering for a ginsters and red bull. duly dispatched to the information desk, I wait behind a number of people who are lurching over the counter with what look like steam coming out of their tasteless shirt collars. I’m sure there’s no reason to get quite so emboiled. “FOUR HOURS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN FOUR HOURS?” count backwards. walk away. “they said they delay is now four hours” “FOUR HOURS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN FOUR HOURS?” “that’s what I said” “but FOUR HOURS.” I know.
“we should put some sun cream on.” too late. never mind. by now, cars are actually parking on top of each other and the tuts of the middle class can be heard from four miles away. still no letter. those stupid letters are useless. “it’s still a star daddy. it should be a letter” “ITS NOT A BLOODY STAR ITS A BLOODY ASTERISK YES IT SHOULD BE A LETTER. IT SHOULD BE A LETTER ‘D’ LIKE WE HAVE HANGING ON OUR MIRROR, BUT ITS NOT, ITS AN AS-TER-ISK.” dispatched once more to the information desk, there is now a quagmire of venomous plebs waving ‘A’s and ‘B’s around and saying things like “then why did your colleague sat THERE tell me not HALF AN HOUR AGO that letter ‘A’ would be boarding at THREE?” and “so I have to cancel NOW to get a refund? can I not just cancel it later online? we’re going to get a ferry” and “we’ll have to get our tent our right now, eh girls? nyyyeeeeehahahahaahahaaaaa!”. it says on the magnetic board at the back of the desk that ‘C’ and ‘D’ are boarding. bingo. “no, ‘C’ and ‘D’ aren’t boarding yet sir” “but you’ve just stuck a magnetic ‘C’ and ‘D’ on that board behind you” “hang on sir” … ” ‘C’ and ‘D’ are boarding now sir.” excellent. just time to…oh, not there isn’t.
after four hours, a little queue to get through customs will be alright, just so long as we get on the bloody train. it’ll probably only be about half an hour now, this is the quick bit.
three hours later, we’re still stuck at stage two. stage two is the stage that you definitely can not back out of. its the stage after passport control and customs, where you’re actually stateless and the only way is forward. suspiciously, there was a handy mobile grill stop at the head of the queuing system we found ourselves parked in. as it was now 6pm, we needed the tea we’d planned to have somewhere on the other side of paris, but right now, we’re just on the other side of a checkpoint – we can still SEE the terminal. “um. four of the large sausages” “dave, four?” “er. yeah. thas the last” “yeah four. any drink?” “do you have a cup of tea” “well, we have warm water that we turn brown and add a skin to. that’s a pound” “I’ll have one” “there you go love. four sausages. that’s what you call your BIG DOGS” “oh. right. thanks.” of course, no sooner had we settled down at the side of the vacuous road side under what looked like a military installation of some sort to eat our BIG DOGS and squirt ketchup all over ourselves, than there was some kind squawking noise through some kind of loudspeaker signalling some kind of movement in some kind of direction. in fact, it was, finally, our safe passage to the trains granted, and we followed the languid dutch couple in the toyota celica down the ramp, across the platform, up the ramp and onto the train.
“are we on the train now?” “yes, we’re on the train now” “ooh, it smells funny” “I need a wee.” eight hours after we arrived, we departed. we’d missed all our sticky checkpoints on our unfoldoutable map and so we were just making it up now. in the end, we’d actually get as far as orléans, just eight hours late, whereupon we would check into hotel de sleaze and start itching. we had apparently been caught up in ‘operation stack‘, following an outage in one of the rail tunnels and so there had just been one train going backwards and forward all day. some people were actually stuck IN the train, IN the tunnel for three hours, so it could have been worse. of course, not a single person from eurotunnel at any point told us anything about anything that was going on the whole time we were on their property, and I expect those stupid lcd posts have STILL got STARS on them.