WhatsApp Image 2022-05-26 at 5.24.25 PM

The Rendez-Vous

I awoke a couple of minutes before my alarm went off. It’s a weird thing that often happens, and damn useful when you travel as much as I do.

I wanted to get going at 8am, but in the event, we had coffee and breakfast with Ali’s mum, played Ollie and the many dogs at the house (all 12 of them) and in the end didn’t get going until 10am. That’s okay, I only had a good 18 hours of driving ahead of me!

We said our thanks to Ali and her mum (Adam was away on a trip to the UK). I honestly don’t know what we would have done without them, they’ve been absolutely brilliant, taking in a dog at a moment’s notice, looking after him brilliantly for the last three weeks, having him seen by the vet, doing the antibody test, giving him the worming tablet, the lot.

Of course, we would never have found out about Adam and Ali had it not been for Gordon the medic.

Since he picked up the 4×4 a few weeks ago, he’s been driving around Ukraine, dropping off supplies and ferrying people to safety.

Then, a couple of days ago, he set off from Ukraine back to his home in Northern Ireland. On the way he picked up a Ukrainian family from near the border at Medyka and took them to Cologne in Germany, arriving at 4am this morning.

Being a man of unlimited awesomeness, he was already up this morning and back on the road. Furthermore, he’d be driving past the Belgium city of Liège about the same time as us. Seemed like a good excuse for a rendez-vous! Quick… to the services!

So we got some photos of both the UK4UKR vehicles together, grabbed some lunch and Gordon got to play with Ollie some more (I think that was his real reason for meeting up).

We left just before 1pm. In hindsight, I should really have got going earlier today, but I couldn’t really have predicted the torrential rainstorm that hit Belgium just as Natasha and I were passing through. And that usual route to Calais (via Dunkirk) would be closed for some reason. And that there’d be massive traffic queues around Lille.

As things turned out, we didn’t get to the Calais Eurotunnel terminal until 4.30pm, a good hour later than planned.

Before you go through the entry gates, there’s a building to the right where you go to check in your pets. “We Love Pets!” it says on the outside.

Thinking the binder full of certificates, forms and permissions, not to mention two pet passports, would be enough to get Ollie through with not too much bother, I used the “drive thru”.

Ha!

Oh Graham, you sweet summer child… you didn’t think it would be that easy, did you? This is Brexit Britain we’re dealing with!

Apparently, we were missing a form.

If it had been me on my own, the swear words would have been heard from here to Timbuktu, but out of courtesy to Natasha, and feeling utterly mortified that my country could be so insane, and cruel, and cruelly insane, I held my tongue.

I got on the phone to Amanda, Natasha’s sponsor in the UK, to try and sort something out. She called her vet, who wasn’t answering, and then APHA, waiting in the queue for half an hour to get through to anyone.

Meanwhile I was quickly trying to suss out what we were going to do if Ollie couldn’t get on the train. It was a Friday afternoon and if he had to be seen by a vet it was very unlikely to happen before Monday morning at the earliest.

If you were paying attention to the start of yesterday’s blogs, you might have noticed that would be cutting the post-worming maximum of 120 hours very close.

Making Natasha stay in Calais with Ollie while I went back to Durham would open a whole new can of worms as Ollie was registered to enter the country with me, in Ciaran’s Stepwagon.

Furthermore, to be quite frank, UK4UKR is running out of money and the cost of me travelling back to the UK and then returning to Calais to pick up Natasha next week would put the possibility of any future journey to the Ukrainian border in doubt.

In short, if we couldn’t get Ollie into the UK this afternoon we’d be in all kinds of difficulties.

I’m so glad that 17.4m muppets voted to take us back to the 1970s.

Great days

We had the following forms:

ID111
ID114
ID115
ID116
ID123

But what we needed was a form called “ID131”, apparently.

I parked up the van and we waited to hear back to Amanda. She eventually managed to get through to APHA, who can’t look up individual cases (seriously!), but assured us that we had all the correct forms. Something wasn’t right here.

I went into the building to speak to the lady who said we needed the ID131 form. I asked if I could see one of these forms. Obligingly, she showed me the form we needed.

It was an exact carbon copy of the ID114 form we had.

Exact except for the tiny number at the bottom of the page.

Kafka had nothing on this.

Once I pointed out that we had the form in question, it just had a different reference number, the lady smiled and said that was fine, she took our ID114 form, scanned it into the system and we were free to go. This whole episode had taken a good hour and a half, but there was one last kicker: we couldn’t bring Ollie through the tunnel on a ticket bought through Ciaran’s trade account.

So I had to cancel that ticket and buy another, full price.

Oh, and it’s an extra £16 for the dog.

£200 one way. For a 35 minute journey. No buffet car and you’re lucky if the loos are working.

I got on my phone to book a new ticket… but as it was 6.01pm by the time I got to the ticket selection screen, the earliest I could book for was 8.20pm. The tickets are bookable in 2 hour blocks. 6pm to 8pm was now greyed out.

I wouldn’t be getting home to Durham until 4am at the earliest.

But…. we sailed through the check-in booths, Ollie quietly sitting on Natasha’s lap. We we in!

After grabbing a bite to eat in the terminal building, I suggested that instead of waiting until we were called, we should just try to go through. There wasn’t that many people there, so it was a good bet that the trains weren’t full and they’d let us on an earlier one than what I booked.

It took a little while to get through passport control, but (thank goodness) there were no issues with Natasha’s passport and UK visa.

Sure enough, we managed to get on the 7.50pm train, half an hour earlier than our allotted departure. There were only about three other vehicles in our section of the train. By 7.40pm we were back in the UK.

Time travel is boss.

I’m not going to lie, by this point I was cream crackered. Amanda and Laurence in Stockport had said I was welcome to crash at theirs, if I didn’t want to carry on to Durham after dropping Natasha and Ollie off. Around 9pm, I texted Amanda saying I’d like to take them up on the offer.

We stopped at services few times on the way up to Stockport, coffee coffee coffee… I needed the caffeine. ALL THE CAFFEINE!

We arrived at Amanda and Laurence’s at 1.50am. after approximately 30 hours out of the last 44 behind the wheel.

Still though, time for a cup of tea with Amanda and Laurence. It would be rude not to after making them stay up so late.

Tl;DR: dog successfully fetched.

Would you believe, I had an early start the next day. But look at this pic of Maria and Mark reunited with their beloved Ollie and tell me it wasn’t worth it.

Of course it was. 👍👍👍

After all that... a happy ending.

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