Trucking, Formule 1 and Barbe a Papa

After a frenetic packing session (read ‘throwing everything in the van in the rain’) on Saturday, leaving lots behind (I haven’t the heart to say how much, suffice to say I shan’t be amazed if it doesn’t all fit in a 3.5 ton truck) we set off early on Sunday morning.

The first problem is finding cheap petrol. How is it Asda can charge 116.9p a litre when the robbing thieves at Heap Bridge BP are charging 122.9p??! It’s extortion! Once you find cheap petrol, the problem then becomes fitting into the petrol station. I can’t count how many times we had to find a ‘bigger’ petrol station that would fit in our 3.6 metre height. Poor van.

We had a relatively smooth and stress-free journey down. Jake has been incredibly ‘happy Jake’ recently, which is all for the good. He likes road trips anyway, especially if there’s stuff he can see. Still, we had the waiting-in-line for 10 minutes at Dartford, which always disgusts me. I’d pay £10 not to have to stop. Not only that, but I didn’t know if it was £2.00 or £3.70 for our van, which is in between a transit and a HGV in size, so I’d given Steve £3.70 just in case. He handed it over, the guy took it, charged us £2.00 and kept the change. Cheeky robbing bastards. As if it wasn’t enough that the bridge must make in excess of £2,000,000 a day, easily. They might very well have a pre-payment system, but what’s the point of it when all the lanes are blocked for miles on the approach??!

I’m just reading the Hansard conversation here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm081217/halltext/81217h0010.htm

I’m particularly liking the fact that the Tories said they would quit payments after the bridge had been paid for, but the Nu-Lab thieves decided to keep it going ‘to ease congestion’ – what the hell’s that about??! The congestion IS CAUSED BY the tolls, not the other way around! If nobody had to stop, there would have been no congestion, particularly on the way down… the way back was an entirely different story! The bridge, it transpires, raises only £47,000,000 profit a year. Only. Actually, that’s nothing. It is a piddling amount to the Government. If they got rid of the tolls, there’d be less congestion, less pollution, fewer over-heated temperatures… it’s a win-win situation. Apparently the Highways Agency showed there would be a 17% rise in traffic. But what would the impact be on waiting times at peak times?? It seems like the system is set up to rip off the most people.

The hon. James Brokenshire (what an appropriately Blackaddery-Rotten-Borough kind of a name for Britain!) referred to the Sunday Times…

“Even the three billy goats gruff didn’t have this sort of hassle when they wanted to get to the other side of their river. Granted, they had to deal with a troll, but he wasn’t demanding £1.50 every time. In fact, when he tried it on once too often, he got butted firmly into the river. Think on that, Dartford Crossing authorities.”

How true!!

He also points out the environmental costs, the cost of waiting, the costs to small businesses… nothing was strong enough to either iron out the crazy policy of charging or to sort out where the profits should go.

Reading on, I see that ‘tolls are unlawful’ if they create congestion… surely this is true of Dartford??! It MAKES it congested! It certainly did yesterday when we were coming back and we sat in standing traffic on the Kent side for a good 45 minutes. Ridiculous. It was clear after that (only til we got to the roadworks. Grrrr) but on the other side heading into Kent, there were miles and miles of tailbacks. I know it was Friday, but it was only half past one. By the time we got off the M25, it was 4:30. It was utterly hideous. And the crossing paid a small part in that, adding on a good 45 minutes. Even in less congested times, you still have to stop and wait. Fucking ridiculous.

Apparently, MPs on either side don’t want a charge for local residents, the AA are in agreement that it’s pointless, but that doesn’t matter. Maybe Dave and Nick will sort it out if I write them a nice letter?!

After the pain of Dartford, it was the joy of the ferry.

Being a trucker means you get special privileges. You get special drive-up booths where you have someone up high to chat to. You get special queues and priorities. You get to go on the ferry first and you have a special cafe at special prices, which are actual normal prices, rather than the over-inflated motorway services prices the cafe on board sells at. I don’t get that about England at all. Why are the services allowed to be so ridiculous at charging for food and drink – why aren’t little hot-dog and burger vans allowed on the services to tout their wares? Hardly ‘fair’ competition, is it? No doubt there are bungs to the transport department…

That’s another thing… trucks in France can stop on services for as long as they like, as can cars. Not so in ‘rip-off’ Britain. £24 for a lorry to park for more than 2 hours. Disgusting. When we stopped at Maidstone services on our way back yesterday, a little Nazi jobsworth turned up to shake his finger at us parking in the ‘coach’ park (because coaches bring lots of people who will spend a lot at the services) and made us manoeuvre into the final lorry space (there weren’t enough) and then patrolled with his little clipboard taking note. It was like something from Trigger Happy tv, except it wasn’t funny.

So, we enjoyed our P&O fish and chips, had a wander around (I wasn’t sick. I am ALWAYS sick on ferries) and then arrived in France ready to get down to Abbeville by bedtime. Driving in France is a joy. We’d decided to forego the toll roads and in many ways, it was a joy to do so. You pass through all the little villages along the way. It reminds me of the France I remember from being a child – endless tree-lined roads, village squares with a church, a mairie, a bar, some shops and a central parking space – and long, clear roads.

The Formule 1 was excellent, as well as a bargain. What more do you need than a bed? I’m never fussed by having a toilet in my room, or a shower. Plus, the shower and toilet cubicles reminded me of Japan. I think they’re quite cute! And, at 35 euros, not to be quibbled with!

It took us the best part of Sunday and Monday to make our way down to Les Ecures, coupled with various stop-offs for coffee and Red Bull. It was raining when we got there, which was a little sad, especially since it was bright sun by Thursday when we had to come home. I’m loving the Auchan at Poitiers – shame it’s so far away! Steve raised a valid point when we were there, though… there’s a lot of anti-English sentiment (as a language, as well as a nation!) which is hugely understandable, especially given the state of the majority of non-truck-driving people on the ferry… and the way the English drive… but the t-shirts are covered with ‘English’ phrases, which is a little odd. I can only take it that they like Americans (?!) and they don’t like their nearest allies. This is not a bad thing. Lancashire is next to Yorkshire, and I wouldn’t want to be wearing a Yorkshire cricket shirt. I don’t think it’s ‘racism’ per se, just a dislike of the unfortunately dominant English language and the way it got there by colonising every available space not taken by the French or Spanish or Portuguese. Still, it is odd that everyone is sloganned up in English yet don’t really like it. I think I might pretend to be Australian. No-one dislikes them. Or Canadian. An Aussie can be a bit lairy. I might go for a New Zealander. New Zealanders aren’t disliked.

We had a mad rush to Les Ecures on Tuesday. Jake hadn’t seen it before. His verdict? “Good!”

The boy likes it. The deal is a good one. He had  a bit of a wander about, although he’s still a bit nervous, which is sweet. He’s a funny lad. He’s banned us from saying ‘ouais’ to everything, since Steve and I say it so much. The boy liked his bedroom, and the attic. He liked the idea of having a bedroom up there, though he wasn’t keen on the spiders. He liked the little house and the garden and the barn and his cabin. It’s all good.

The rest of Tuesday was a rampage through the poly-tunnel to clear out the weeds. The pak choi have gone to seed. The radishes were harvested (though for someone who wanted to plant radishes, Steve ate remarkably few of them) It turns out the timer hasn’t been on best behaviour, so many things had not grown, including the carrots and my melons, which is very upsetting! Some of the herbs are okay, like the dill. The onions and potatoes seem to be okay, though I’m not sure the drought will do them good. The outside potatoes are fine and healthy, though surrounded by weeds. I think we have a few bits of basil and thyme coming up, though I hope they’ve survived the drought. Steve’s tomatoes looked decidedly worse for wear, and his other plants seemed to be okay.

After that, it was more weeding, more unloading, more unpacking.

Steve decided to unpack his bike/man stuff. He has commandeered the mini-grange for his personal use and it is now home to his tools, the bikes, the canoe, the fishing rods, the lawnmower and the wine press. Every thing a man could want. He’s filled the shelves with various aerosols and oils and ‘man’ products, all in a nice row. I, alternatively, went for unpacking my flower arrangements and deciding on the wallpapers for each room. Girls will be girls…

I mowed the lawn, too, on Wednesday. Actually, this took place after it took us three hours to pay a bill. This is my own fault. Firstly, I had £500 in cash. However, I did expect most banks would offer an exchange service, but no. The lady in CA in Mansle was incredibly unhelpful, saying only ‘go to Angouleme’. This was 9:30

I shan’t be getting a bank account with them, then!

Trying to navigate Angouleme in a 7.5 tonne truck… not so easy, it turns out. You can’t park anywhere as it is, but trying to park that was just insane. However, we pulled up (didn’t get a ticket – sorry, Angouleme) and I wandered off to find somewhere to exchange my cash. I ended up in La Poste, with two wonderfully helpful assistants. I think I’ll go for a La Poste account. They seem helpful and state-owned = less focus on profits for the bankers. I did queue for a bit in trepidation, but the lady was lovely.

“La Rochette, ouais, je la sais.. seize cent dix”

Which brings me to another problem. What’s the difference in pronunciation between ‘cent’, ‘son’, ‘sans’ and ‘sont’? Is there one?? It’s highly confusing. How would you say ‘Ils sont sans respecte?’ – all the words sound similar in the middle, like where you have to say ‘he had had’ which sounds weird.

After that, it was a mad dash out of Angouleme – 11:20 at this point, and a race to Chasseneuil to pay the house insurance. We arrived at 12:05, and I was convinced they were shut up for lunch. Luckily not so. I need to get more in stride with this French dinner time malarky. So… in all, round trip of 3 hours to pay a bill. Hmmm. I hope I don’t have to do this too often!

So, early Thursday, it was time to depart. We had lost 2000kg of weight in all kinds of household goods, and we set off back ‘up North’ to Abbeville.

I got to eat at Buffalo Grill, which I had been waiting for for ever. Jake was introduced to the delights of ‘Barbe a Papa’ (Candy floss) which he was a fan of in England, but I think it’s reassured him it’ll be better in France as they still have the same stuff there. He was sugar-giddy for ages.

Steve has been very subdued all this time. I hope he’s just recovering from the journey!

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