Thursday, 2 May 2002
Welcome to France
I am in one of those very cheap, plastic hotels that pop up alongside the French ring roads outside the bigger towns. For £18 I get a room with TV, shower, loo and double bed and a buffet breakfast tomorrow morning. It is completely without character or style, just bed, bathroom and breakfast. To check-in, you feed a credit card into a slot by the front door and receive a slip of paper with your room number and 6 digit entry code. Punch in the number and you’re inside, do it again upstairs and ‘Open Sesame’ you’re in your little box room.
I haven’t seen or spoken to a human being yet.
I chose to stay here after my first night’s experience, (more of which later), because I had expected a phone point in the room so that I could email you. Needless to say, no phone. I explored the lifeless lobby and found a public telephone but no dataport to plug in my laptop. Near the floor, however, tucked away inconspicuously, was the French version of BT’s phone point. Hélas! I had a BT and a US end to my cable and thus needed an adaptor. Where do you get a US/French adaptor at 1800 on a Thursday evening on the main ring road around Chartres?
Drove fifty yards down the road, chatted to a man in the French version of Comet who reached under his counter and said ‘Have this, un petit cadeau!‘ Free! Drove back, plugged in, dialled up AOL on their freephone number and hence you are reading this!
As I belted down the M20 towards Dover on Wednesday morning in the glorious sunshine, two lorries alongside me collided, jack-knifed and closed the motorway behind me. I drove on like the not-so-good Samaritan as there were plenty of people giving advice to the two uninjured drivers and made my ferry with time to spare. I didn’t expect much for £15 return from P&O and I was not disappointed. What is it about ferries that cause people to behave as if they were in a supermarket dash-to-the-death? It’s only cheap bloody lager for God’s sake. And not that cheap either. Couldn’t wait to get off and leave the great British Public behind for ever.
Calais was deserted and closed as it was May Day and everyone was in Paris smashing up McDonalds for the day. On the way out of town I stopped at country fair and had my first taste of the French en masse. Just as bad as the English on the boat!
It’s people I don’t like I’m beginning to realise.
I was pushed and shoved around endless exhibits of double glazing and water softeners until I found a lady offering ‘dégustation du vin‘ tucked away in a corner of the enormous marquee. Tasted her wares which were decidedly average but, Hey, what do you expect for free? and wandered off to several other stalls nearby, offering more wines, cheeses and pates and sausages until I had lunched relatively well.
Looks like my budget will stretch far like this.
I bought a guide to the 3000 best B&B Gîtes in France published by Logis and the AA and chose one at random. Won’t do that again.
It was a modern house on the outskirts of a little seaside town called St Cecile sur Plage, near Le Touquet. The owner, a DIY fanatic with easy access to whatever B&Q is called here had converted his modest semi into a 4 bedroomed B&B boasting en suite to every room, hence the 3 star rating.
The wall paper gave me a migraine as soon as I opened the door. The sheets clashed so violently with the duvet cover that I had to get into bed in the dark. I writhed all night feeling I was in some ’60s psychedelic nightmare. In the bathroom in the morning I could perform all my necessary ablutions without moving. In fact I had to, as the DIY freak had squeezed the whole bathroom suite into what must have been the loo. We had a long, pointless conversation over luke warm coffee and old bread about bird watchers and golfers (his principal source of guests) before I handed over £20. Now you can see why I’m in Formula One or Comfort Inn or Village Hotel or whatever it’s called.
Dinner Wednesday evening was at a local hotel as most places were shut, it being May Day and not quite in season. I sat between a table full of mature English lady golfers, none of whom could speak French so brayed loudly and a big party of Scotsmen in kilts who had obviously celebrated at the 19th hole for some considerable time before sitting down to dine and award the golf prizes. The two groups studiously ignored each other. Had they been French or Spanish there would have been all sorts of fun and laughter but not the British. I always remember my father complaining whenever he saw another English number plate as if the Continent should have been especially reserved for just him.
I took my coffee in the ‘English Lounge’ as it was called and promptly fell asleep. The golfers woke me up later and I parted with my £25 for what was a very pleasant 4 course meal with wine and digestif. With the Beast averaging over 20 mpg and fuel cheaper than UK I might just be able to survive here.