the topsy turvy world where peak = quiet

I have a disease. It’s called Always Being Early Syndrome. With treatment, and years of therapy, I have managed to mitigate this lifelong condition to Always Being On Time Syndrome. But whether ABES or ABOTS, the problem for me is that my OH has it worse.

So it comes to the last day of the holiday. Our booked crossing on the Eurotunnel is at 01:20 Sunday morning, which means that check-in (officially) opens at 11:20. Counting backwards, knowing exactly how long the drive from the East of France to Calais takes us, and even allowing for breaks longer than we ever actually take, I worked out that the absolute earliest we should leave the house was about 15:00 on Saturday.

Reader, we left at 13:00.

You may very well ask. Well, you see, my ABES-afflicted OH started putting the house away really early. We moved all the temporary furniture out again so the tiling can be done, leaving just a single garden chair and a pile of ceramic tile packs to sit on. We closed all the bedroom doors so the cat couldn’t hide under a bed (he has done this before), and my OH even closed all the shutters. So there we were, at noon, with three hours ahead of us, and my OH grumpily questioning why we didn’t just leave.

So we did. I tried to resist, but she wore me down over an hour. I said, it’s better for the cat to be hanging around in here than to be hanging around in the car for an unnecessary two hours. But we left at one p.m. and set off. A bit of rain at first, but then it was dry, and by the time we passed Reims, it was actually sunny and warm. We’d used the usual motorways, having been traumatised by Belgium two weeks ago. So we made good time. I tried to extend our brief pit stops, a bit, but we still ended up arriving at 20:20, three hours early. LOL.

The check-in machine offered an earlier crossing, but for a price: an extra £86. Since this had already been one of the more expensive trips, I hesitated a moment, but then thought of the cat and paid up.

Before the pandemic, we were on the Frequent Traveller scheme, which meant that if you paid up front, you could get 10 (one way) crossings for £40 each. But the Frequent Traveller scheme is no more, which meant that the cheapest return crossing this time was £140. So it was £100 extra, even crossing at the anti-social hour of 01:20, and getting home about 04:00.

So, an extra £86, bringing the total to £226, which in my mind ought to be the total price allez et retour.

But no: the total out-and-return price this time was an eye-watering £402. I know this is still reasonable compared to flying a family of four somewhere and hiring a car, say, but when you cross as often as we do, you’d now be looking at an annual travel budget in excess of £2500. I know, I know, middle-class problems etc.

But that’s not my point.

My point is that the train was half-empty. I’ve complained long and hard since Brexit about the shit show of the channel crossing, and you’ve seen on the news the apocalyptic queues at Dover etc. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Channel Tunnel, on the first Friday of the Easter break, was slammed: as busy as I’ve ever seen it, almost. But fluid! Everybody was moving. The car park was full, and the queue to border controls was long, but everybody was moving. And by the time we crossed, it was fine. Not even that busy. At around 23:00, we boarded a train. And it was half-empty.

So to summarise: we paid £402 and had two relatively easy crossings on half-empty trains. The train coming back last night was so empty that the carriage behind us contained but a single motorcycle and rider. But what if we’d paid £201 and crossed on two full trains?

It seems as if Eurotunnel have deliberately hiked prices to push most people into the middle of the night as a form of crowd control. Meanwhile, people who can afford it (and I don’t really include myself in that number: I’m dreading the next credit card bill) are crossing at what used to be “peak” times but are in fact relatively quiet because too expensive. It’s a topsy turvy post-Brexit world. Peak means peak price, but it doesn’t (surely?) mean peak profits because the trains are running half-empty. I’m sure some galaxy brain accountant can explain this to me.


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