I wake early to load the Land Rover; as I get to the hotel car park I discover I’m there just in time to unblock a couple of vans full of workmen.
We get back to the Union Chapel, our meeting point for departure. We are starving. Greg and Sam are, understandably, cold and aching after spending the night in the van, with only an insubstantial beer-blanket for warmth. There are no eateries immediately visible. We wonder whether the stylish but non-functional chairs in the shop next to the chapel are edible. I doubt it.
With Niko and Celine on the train to Paris, there’s more room in the main van, so David switches vehicle, leaving me, Sarah, and the two Sams in the Land Rover. We guess that we can get away without the roof bag, which necessitates more climbing.
The journey to Folkestone is relatively uneventful. Sam rings the Low Emissions Zone hotline and they’re ready to take £200 off us until he mentions that their website says that a first offence can receive a warning letter. He reinforces this by saying that we wouldn’t even have come if we’d known about it. There’s a brief moment of suspense as the lady on the other end goes to speak to someone; when she returns to the phone she tells Sam that a warning letter will be sent out and there’s no bill to pay. Phew.
The journey to the Channel Tunnel in itself is pretty uneventful; it’s once we get to the various security barriers at Folkestone that the high-jinks begin. First off, we approach a barrier that says “please declare all firearms”. I wind the window down and say “Hello, we haven’t got any!” in a cheery manner. The lady in the red jacket isn’t amused.
When we get to French customs, the gendarmes are about to dismantle a car two places ahead of us in the queue. At this point we’re already late as although Eugene has bought our return ticket, the flexible pricing has buggered up and if we want a sociable return time after the Belgium gig there’s another fee to pay.
One of the gendarmes approaches the Land Rover with something in his hand. I misunderstand his hand gesture and pull forward, nearly flattening him in the process. Oops. He’s not a happy man. He shouts at me. By the time I remember how to say “sorry” in French he’s several yards away, and his replying gesture suggests that if circumstances allowed, he would probably spit at me.
Luckily, the gendarme in the window checking passports is much friendlier once I try to explain myself in French. He finds my spoken French quite entertaining. This will become something of a pattern.
We now need to get the crossing ticket thingy updated to mid-day-ish on the day of the return journey. We have about 5 minutes to spare before boarding finishes for our train. The woman at the kiosk hasn’t phoned ahead. We miss the train.
We queue for the next one, and after half an hour, tootle along to the top of the ramp for approaching the train. A grumpy French chap has parked a car there to stop us from going. Distracted by all the shiny things and big trains in evidence, I fail to apply the handbrake, and it’s only when there are cries of “DON’T CRASH! DON’T CRASH!” from the back of the van that I realise I’m about to squash his car. Again, oops.
On the tunnel train, I set the Land Rover’s alarm off more than once. Apparently loud noises and flashing lights scare the train. Oops.
Calais, and driving on the wrong side of the road proves easier than expected. The others get very excited when we overtake slow-moving lorries (being rather slow-moving ourselves). Needless to say, we don’t have a prayer of catching Eugene in the Mercedes van – they’re long gone.
We stop at motorway services for lunch. French bins look like spaceships.
After Little Sam, Sarah and I watch a very rude Indian lady demanding that her (salad) sandwiches be heated up (greeted with a resounding “NON!” from the waitress) we change drivers. Mr. Underwood does a couple of laps of the car park accidentally by missing the exit and then we’re on our way.
At this point, it all starts to go a bit Spinal Tap.