What Do You Mean, You’ve Missed The Boat?

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France


I hate water, possibly to phobic proportions. It took many years to pluck up the courage to get under a shower and I’ll never again get on a boat. It’s no big deal really. I just won’t visit the Maldives. Or Antarctica. The latter perhaps more of a regret than the first.

Shortly after we married we decided to go on a touring holiday in France. It was before the days of the Channel Tunnel so the ferry was the only way to take the car. I intended to fly. Mike thought he could persuade me to travel with him on the boat. As it happened we were booked to go to a Navy Open Day in Portsmouth to look around the warships while they were safely tied up to dry land. It was a lousy day for weather, blowing a hoolie in fact. Even the deck of the aircraft carrier had been closed to the public until the gale died down. We wandered instead on to the dockside and Mike’s hidden agenda was revealed. The big cross channel ferry hove into view and began its turn towards its berth.

“You see how big and solid that ship is, how little it rolls even in this wind..”

But there was something not quite right about that boat and it took me a second or two to figure out what. “Then why is it leaning at that odd angle?”

Yep, the gale force wind had swept the ferry on to a sandbank. It had run aground and taken on a list. Mike was heard to swear and I was on the phone to the British Airways ticket desk the minute we got home.

The journey across to France was uneventful enough. In fact, quite romantic really. Mike dropped me off at Heathrow on his way to the ferry port in Dover. I’ve always wanted to say “Goodbye darling, see you in Paris..” and so it was.  Sure, it was a long wait at Charles de Gaulle airport. But I had a book, there was coffee.. and plenty of opportunity to shop. And eventually Mike caught up so we could continue on our way.

Coming back home was a different matter entirely. The traffic on the Paris Peripherique was appalling. Quelle surprise. The boarding time for my flight came.. and went. When we finally got to the airport I was dumped unceremoniously on the pavement outside Departures, sans billet by now, and left to sort myself out while he high-tailed it off to the coast. British Airways could get me no flight until the following day, nor Air France, but after much traipsing of the airport concourse I managed to book with a much smaller carrier and got back to London very late but at least the same day. And should I have made all the effort? No. Because as it turned out Mike missed his boat and got an extra day’s holiday in France. He spent it sight-seeing in Normandy, hence the picture above.

The following year, lessons learned, we tried again. A last night stopover in northern France left plenty of time for the traffic on the Peripherique. I caught my flight and gazed down at the water 30,000 feet below with a glass of champagne to hand. And then it was out through the customs hall. The place was swarming with customs officers, uniformed and plain clothed. Something was afoot, a security alert of some kind. But no worries eh, all my luggage was still in the boot of the car. They’d let me straight through.. yes? No. Apparently the average traveller from abroad carries stuff. Even if only a briefcase. Me? Just a small handbag and a bottle of Duty Free gin.

The customs man smiled as he listened to my story and a handbag doesn’t take long to search so after a little mickey taking at my expense I was free to go on my way. As far as the Arrivals hall anyway, to yet more coffee and another long wait. I had plenty of time to wonder how Mike was faring. Did the security clampdown extend to the ferry ports too? Because of course he did have suitcases. Perhaps too many for just one person. And one of those cases was stuffed full to bursting with ladies clothes..