The coach arrived with a jolt sometime before lunch. I had fallen asleep somewhere near the French border; I woke up, bleary-eyed, to the unmistakable sights and sounds of Calais – one of the busiest ferry ports in the world.
I strained my eyes against the watery sunshine, wondering where the miles of peaceful fields and abandoned petrol stations had gone.
My senses were bombarded with: gulls squawking overhead, repeatedly dive-bombing long-dead packets of chips; family hatchbacks crammed full with fluorescent inflatables, buckets and spades, duvets, grandmas and the like; estate cars packed so tightly with cheap booze and tobacco that they practically wheelie through customs; bus drivers huddled together in small groups, collectively chain-smoking cigarettes, lost in a fug of blue-grey smoke and disgruntled lorry drivers, eyes full of hatred for other vehicles that dare use their road.
Ferry terminals are something of a leveller. People of all ages, backgrounds, and social classes passing through, mixed together in a way you don’t normally get to see. A tattooed lorry driver sits alongside a silver-haired couple in a sleek open-topped Mercedes, back from a long weekend in their Normandy chateau. Pink, flip-flopped families, fresh from a Brittany camping experience, argue and bicker, spilling clothes, souvenirs and swearwords all over the ferry terminal tarmac as the occasional French ferry user looks on in horror and disbelief.
We all have to wait.
There’s no first-class.
And we are all herded up the narrow stairways, clamouring for a quiet corner, a haven of peace and solitude, away from the screaming babies, cafes, fruit machines and sick inducing perfume aromas that waft around like aromatic bullies, assaulting your senses and ruining your appetite. We all have to use the same toilets.
We all have to listen to the same annoying kids. We are all at the mercy of the weather, the ever-changing channel, the helpful staff and the interesting toilets.