As always, I struggled to sleep on our last night in France, knowing we would be travelling the following day — but not for the usual reason. Somewhere after 2 a.m., everyone in the village was woken by a colossal crash. To me, it sounded like it was right outside my bedroom window, as if someone had slammed the metal door to the old chicken shed with the force of a thousand angry teenagers.
In the split second between hearing the crash — an earthquake? an intruder? the roof coming off? — and the resulting roll of thunder, I had time to hope that it was only lightning. So strange, the working of the human brain. For example, I distinctly remember being awake to hear the bolt of lightning, and yet I was also clearly woken by the bolt of lightning. And the time between lightning and thunder can only have been a second or so, and yet I had time to imagine all the less welcome things it might have been.
It was lightning, and the house circuit breaker tripped out, not just for us but for the whole village. We were all up in the middle of the night, using phones as torches (I actually have a bluetooth speaker that is also a lamp) to switch the electricity back on.
In the morning we discovered that, far from being right outside the house, the lightning had struck a few hundred metres away, “on the Haute Saone side” of the mountain (we live in Territoire de Belfort, which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary, according to a roundabout on the way into the city).
So it was just lightning, but if I’d been wearing my Apple watch in bed, I would most certainly have had one of those concerned messages about my elevated heartrate when I was just lying down.
Couldn’t sleep after that, which meant business as usual as we started the long drive home. A friend texted to ask if the thunderstorm had cleared the air, and the answer to that was, not really. It was hotter and more humid the following day. Two hours in, we stopped at the fortified town of Langres for (expensive) diesel, and the temperature outside the car was over 28°C. It was as hot as July, and you got that same feeling: the one you get when you’re on your way in the summer and get out of the car at a service station and hit the solid wall of heat. Yes: we’re on holiday. Except, cruelly, we were on our way home.
I was nervously counting the UK numberplates on the Autoroute des Anglais, but when we reached the terminal at Calais, it wasn’t too bad really. But Sod’s Law applied throughout. The queue for check-in was short, but when we stopped at the machine, it immediately developed a fault and wouldn’t print our hanger. We paid £30 for an earlier crossing, but by the time we got the hanger printed and went around to join the queue for passport control, it was already touch and go.
The French passport guy did a swift check and waved us through with a “Bon courage!”, as if he knew what was about to happen. We approached British passport control. There was a line of eight (ish) lanes, all with a similar length queue, and all showing a green arrow meaning open. We were in the second lane along — the one on the left being for the fast-track “Flexi-plus” passengers.
Now, I don’t mind if people want to pay through the nose in order to board the next available train when they arrive. In normal times, fair enough. But times have not been normal since 2016, and — frankly — they’re wasting their money because the trains are not the hold up. Getting your passport checked is vexatious and stressful, and nobody gets through the process quickly.
Here’s what happened.
First of all, the green arrow in the first lane turned to a red cross. This meant that the traffic in that lane was now being filtered across into the next (and others, I think). Then, 10 minutes later, the green arrow in our lane turned to a red cross. And now we were being filtered across to join the next lane over. So that’s now three into one. And then the next lane turned red, and the next. Apparently, British passport control were closing lanes without warning the Eurotunnel staff who were directing traffic. Staff were told “fifteen minutes” but an hour later all the closed lanes were still closed.
By the time we inched our way to almost the front, we’d been sitting there well over an hour and had missed the train we paid £30 for. And then some joker suggested I give up trying to filter in and instead turn around and join the back of another queue. LOL. I refused.
Seconds later, one of the red crosses turned to a green arrow again and I managed to be third in line.
It still took an age to get to the booth, at which point the passport officer decided to make a fuss — for the first time in 20 years — because my OH and daughter were travelling on their French passports. “The rules are different, you see,” she said. Now, both OH and daughter have two passports, but while one was in the boot of the car, the other is at the US Embassy (we hope) waiting for a student visa. So we were stuck there, arguing with the passport officer for another 10 minutes. I’m sure the people behind us were delighted.
In short (and I’m sure anyone who travelled anywhere this half term will join me in this): fuck this country, fuck its government, fuck the flag wavers, fuck the jubilee, and fuck anybody who voted for this fucking shitshow.