Homecoming surprise and delight

Boot abandoned at Eurotunnel terminal

It would be unfair of me not to mention that our return journey from France this time was far less traumatic than others in recent times. We were travelling on a Thursday night / Friday morning, but I don’t really think that during peak season the day of the week makes much difference.

Eurotunnel have reverted to the old way of doing things: check-in, followed by waiting for your call at the terminal, followed by passport control (Boo!), followed by boarding (Yay!). This, for old hands, was the way it always used to be, and the way the terminal was originally designed. But then a few years ago, for some reason, they decided to put border controls immediately after check-in, and it was usually a horrible experience.

You’d think after 20-odd years that they would have mastered the art of moving people around like this and wouldn’t need to keep experimenting. But the sheer quantity of temporary plastic barrier they now have gives the lie to that. My mind always goes to dark places when I think about this kind of thing. For example, theme parks always make me think of concentration camps. The trick is to prevent the “customer” from being able to see too far into the future. One of the terrible design decisions Eurotunnel originally made was to allow the car park to feed into the lane to border controls in multiple places. This used to lead to bad-tempered gridlock, as everyone tried to get twelve lanes into one. Now, they’ve installed bollards which filter you around the car park in a zig-zag route, and they’ve resigned themselves to having people in high-viz direct cars into the queue for the border controls.

The bit-of-a-ball-ache part of the journey home was that we arrived quite early for our crossing. The cat’s in the car, so you don’t want to dilly-dally. But for the first time ever we were told to sling our hooks. Instead of printing out lettered hanger to display in the windscreen, the machine printed out one that said EXIT. Well! I suspect this is part of their master plan to reduce the level of insanity in the terminal. Unfortunately, we’d arrived too late to make wandering the Cité Europe shopping centre worthwhile, so we just parked up in Pet Control and waited 90 minutes.

That was the bad news. The surprise and delight part of the journey home was that – although we were told at check-in that there was a one-hour delay to all crossings – we ended up getting on an earlier train after all. An earlier train that actually left early and didn’t get stuck in the tunnel. I also enjoyed seeing the boot that had fallen out of someone’s car (?) and been left behind, unnoticed. I just think people should be properly attired when they travel. That might not mean top hat and tails, but it definitely means no pyjamas, and keep your shoes on.

We were sitting in the car waiting for our letter to be called (the terminal itself was full of screaming children – or one screaming child, which is the same thing – which is too stressful for Oscar), and a bloke in a hi-viz started walking around telling people they could all go NOW.

I love it when that happens – it’s rare, but it does. So then we went through border controls (which was a standard level of shit rather than the unprecedented level of shit we got last time) and drove around to the boarding area. Now, this is where I felt TOTALLY VINDICATED for my previous comments about the stretchers, faffers, toilet visitors, and sleepers. Because as soon as I brought the car to a stop in the queue, the barrier lifted, and we were off to board the train. Take THAT, all you men who get out of your cars and o-so-casually wander around winding me up.

(There was one tricky moment, because we were all directed down the wrong boarding ramp, and we had to reverse back up. Reversing in the car is something I absolutely hate – it’s my #1 anxiety dream – so this was not fun. But still!)

Anyway, that’s the trick, isn’t it? Managing expectations. First lower them, then deliver the surprise. It’s exactly what Apple are so good at.

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