After a few hours of sleep, I slurped down a cup of tea, and left with my mum to go and pick up the campervan from Maghull, north of Liverpool. The vehicle hire people were really friendly and supportive, something that proved to be a recurring theme throughout our journey.
Mum followed me as I headed to Go Outdoors to get 50 fold-out chairs to take for the refugees waiting on the border at Medyka. Again, oodles of good will and a huge discount on the chairs. The weather was also glorious. Then we went to Costco, which was a little bit more stressful because the place was absolutely rammed, while my mum waited in the queue I legged it over to Home Bargains (or Home and Bargain as us scousers call it) and got as many bottles of sunscreen as I could carry (I cleared the shelf… I hope they had more in the back).
Meeting my mum in the car park, I got a call on my mobile by a friend who wanted to know what I’m doing as he’s not on social media. As I was explaining the trip, a lady who overheard our conversation came over and gave me £50. I was floored! People are so lovely!
My mum headed home in her car and I continued on to south Liverpool to pick up a wheelchair from a mate of mine, as wheelchairs are always in demand at the border. I realised that all of the electric stuff I bought online would come with UK plugs, so I dropped into Argos on the way back to my mum’s and got all the UK to Europe plug adapters they had.
I had intended to be on the road by midday, but with all the match traffic (it being a Saturday), it wasn’t until after 2pm that I had the van all loaded up and was ready to hit the road. I thanked my lovely mum for all her help, she gave me a packed lunch (I’m 43 but mums gonna mum), said goodbye to my dad (he’s got advanced dementia but I managed to get a smile out of him) and raced off to pick up Chris “Bear” Rossi, my co-pilot.
M62, M6, M1… I met Bear at the Watford Gap services with almost perfect timing… no mucking about!
Now, Bear had already told me he was a big guy. And he really wasn’t exaggerating. He’s 6’6″ (2 metres) tall and 27 stone (171kg). And the driver’s seat didn’t go back very far because it hit the camper van’s sink unit.
When he took the wheel it was reminiscent of when you play as Bowser in Super Mario Kart. But take the wheel he did, and before long we were tearing down the M1 with gay abandon.
We had one last stop along the way. My friend Sarah had picked up over 100 first aid kits for the border from a safety supply company in Brent Cross. She met us in a shady layby on a roundabout just off the M1 near Hemel Hempstead. It felt like we were doing a drug deal! “You brought the merchandise?” 😆
Sarah, you are a legend!
When we got back in the van, Bear asked how I knew Sarah and I explained that me, Sarah, Ciaran, Paolo… we were all Remain activists back in the day. It was at this point that he confessed that he voted Leave. Four days in stuck a van with a Leaver! Haha oh Jeez. Happily, he’s seen the error of his ways, knows he’s been lied to and has assured me he’ll never believe anyone who sounds posh ever again. Good fella!
Bear drove and I booked our tickets for the Eurotunnel. We were on the Road To Hell (the M25) when I hit “confirm” for the 21:20 service. It was at THAT VERY MOMENT that Bear hit the brakes. There had been a collision further on ahead. We sat for an hour while a variety of emergency service vehicles raced past on the hard shoulder.
Thankfully, tickets on the Eurotunnel are endlessly transferable, so I rebooked for the 23.27 service. Also, arrrrrrgh!!
We arrived at the Folkestone terminal in good time (after a rather wacky adventure along some little country roads in order to avoid other collisions that Google Maps had warned us about), and went through all the Brexit malarkey of passport stamps and customs. (Remember them? They’re something from our dark and dismal past that we’ve inexplicably brought back for no good reason. Like the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special or the aristocracy being in charge of everything.)
Everyone was really supportive though, with the notable exception of the French stamp guy who looked like somebody had typed “French stereotype” into Google and 3D printed the result: heavy eyelids, cigarette hanging from lower lip, that classic gallic shrug. You know what though? I was happy that Brexit had provided gainful employment for this guy. Like in the days of the USSR when they “employed” people to dig holes and then fill them back in. The monumental lack of enthusiasm he had in his work was a joy to behold.
Once through the Brexit-mandated red tape we parked up and grabbed coffees in the terminal building, the first of dozens. Once “called”, the drive to the train was labyrinthine and confusing, made even more perplexing by the fact it was a) dark and b) empty. There was hardly anyone else there, like EuroDisney before they changed the name. One of the reasons is that it was Saturday night and HGVs are banned from driving in France on Sundays.
Still, driving onto a train will never not be cool. Once on the other side, the time on our phones leapt forwards not one, but two hours, as European Summer Time kicked in.
To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, “To lose one hour may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness”.
So it was waaaaay past 2am by the time we reached the Calais Ibis Budget where we planned to crash for the night. They only had one room left, so Bear and I would have to share.
The reception was closed at this time of night, so checked in on the check-in machine and were given a passcode which I typed into the keypad in order to get inside the hotel proper… and it didn’t work. Honestly, we spent about 30 minutes faffing about, typing and retyping the code, bugging the Ibis Budget support staff through the call box (the guy I spoke to sounded like he had just woken up) and generally being very tired and frustrated after a long day of driving.
After half an hour of not getting in, and the outer automatic door opening and closing every few seconds, letting in frigid cold air, I thought if the code was right, there must be something wrong with the keypad. Maybe it had a dodgy connection, a loose cable or something, so while we waited for the hotel manager to come and rescue us, I jiggled the outer metal trim about while repeatedly typing in the code.
Success. The door opened. Finally!
Our room was tiny, a double bed with a single bunk above. Bear could just about fit in the loo. The shower for him was out of the question. I clambered up on the top bunk, determined to get to sleep before Bear, (he told me he snores).
I quickly checked my phone. There was a message from Ciaran. “Was that you in the red van on the roundabout near Hemel Hempstead earlier? I think I drove past you.”
Seriously though… what are the chances?!
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