BF have offered some pretty good deals this year and with finances looking less sick we took advantage in full. Came a quiet weekday and, delightfully organised we set off bright and early. The exchange rate is now everything a brexit voter deserves so as confirmed remainers we were fairly unhappy with how few euros our pounds had bought us.
It's not just the Euro of course, with fuel prices on the up our usual pace had been reined in and the VW was travelling at relative snails speed to eke out the litres or diesel.
Arborism was the name of the weekend so the van had been packed with shovels strimmers , my big felling axe, not to mention my stihl chainsaw which was earmarked to do a bit of tree felling.
With all these goodies on board we arrived in time for a meal before rocking into the ferry terminal with time a plenty to spare. Things soured from the word go, into the check in and the lady was not smiling. The vehicle was not accurately described on the ticket she said. This was the same category I had used since 2011 I replied, multi purpose vehicle - which it is. The category was for MPV's and 4x4, this was a VW transporter and therefore a camper van, she said. The most popular 4x4 is a Discovery and that is both longer and higher than a T4, I countered. No, she replied,the T4 had to go in the van and camper category, (which are classed as higher and longer and thus cost more). During the summer, I countered, the T4 had actually been parked on the elevated car deck, as it is pretty much the same size as a large car. This debate was going no where so, accepting that fact and the information that the van was now "on the system" and any further attempts to cheat would be severely dealt with, on we went.
Into security, there was obviously some form of heightened expectation. A far larger security squad than normal, milling round as vehicles came into the security hall. Extra numbers did not mean extra checks and soon it was our turn. Up strode the team. Was this our vehicle? Asked the head honcho. Resisting temptation, I confessed it was. Had we packed it ourselves? Of course. Was everything in it ours? Yes. Were were carrying any weapons? Before I could say a word, the management mentioned we had a chain saw. There was a collective gasp, the whole crowd tensed up and moved back a pace. I'll show you, said I, hopping out of the cab, opening the side door and emerging with the saw. This was not the right move, this lot were getting seriously alarmed, thank goodness management mentioned the saw, had I turned round holding the big felling axe we were also carrying there might well have been a laundry bill....
So like international terrorists we were duly escorted out of the security shed and plonked in a corner well away from the public. There was some debate about whether we should be allowed to board at all, us being international terrorists and all. The head honcho came over, demanding to see our ticket. Didn't have one, said I, boarding card, but no ticket. handed her the boarding card, this wasn't a ticket, quite right says I, there had to be a ticket said she, don't have one, said I, again. Urgent radio messages to the terminal produced a relaxed looking member of BF staff. She rolled up, explained that the security leader needed our reservation number and didn't know where to find it on a boarding card. Shame she hadn't asked me, said I, I could have showed her how to read a boarding pass myself, in retrospect this was not the right thing to say to head honcho in front of BF staff.
Soon after this we were released to wait to board, with heavy duty anti terrorist protection attached to the vehicle (red sticker on the windscreen) and assigned a lane dedicated to international terrorists, well OK,us and the other guy (they caught him with a hedge trimmer).
The police were called over to guard us and at least had the good grace to look slightly bemused by the whole affair. Eventually, we were loaded, and again it was a special area of the car deck under the beady eye of the security cameras.
There was some significant relief involved in getting off the ferry next day, obviously we got stopped the instant we were off the ferry. You are carrying weapons, said the controller, no we have a chainsaw, said I. He laughed, stepped forward and removed our international terrorist sticker before any Gendarmes or Customs spotted it and we were subject to another carnival. Out of the terminal and away we went.
The rest of our day passed without drama well, not quite. I was relaxing by planning how to rewire the house when the levels of swearing outside started to increase exponentially. The management was having a moment. The object of her wrath was the strimmer. Now, this is a bit of a controversial item as, a little while back, our strimmer declined to function. This was a big deal as gardening contracts meant the need was immediate. Having been dispatched with old strimmer which needed overhaul, but with instructions to bring back another as the need for strimmers for gardening projects was as I said, immediate. At the machinery place I had two options, buy a new replacement (as instructed) or a more powerful model, second hand. Using my judgement (not recommended) I overruled instructions (aka as "death wish") and bought second hand. This strimmer has always therefore been "controversial". Now miles from any support it was declining to function, this was a major issue and undoubtedly down to my poor decision making skills. A significant rant was well in progress, never worked right, always been temperamental, should never have bought it etc. In retrospect asking the management whether she thought it might run better with the ignition switch in the "on" position was not as quite tactful a question as it might have been. Soon the sound of furious strimming was heard around the house.
Lunchtime arrived all too soon, time to nip into town. Our chosen Restaurant, trois marchands does 4 courses for € 11.50, a bargain! The menu was set and today's main was beef tongue in Madeira sauce, maybe try somewhere else then. Out of town for the next place and no menu at all!! So upstairs we trooped and sat down. The main was, err beef tongue in Madeira sauce, but the fish starter was superb and a cheese she had never encountered before gave her something to add to the take home shopping list. Also of course is the featured little old lady. Now she is a bit of a fixture and with a couple vin rouges inside her she launched a voluble assault on the character of "les anglais" against whom she obviously has quite a grudge. Le Patron, who knows we are pretty fluent rushed over to appologise and say she was harmless. No problems, said I loudly, I wasn't English, I was Welsh and here views on Les Anglais as neighbours were pretty moderate compared to mine. Went down well that did...
On with the excitement and back to the garden. Our little house is in a minor hamlet and two of the immediate properties are derelict, with a hint of dodgy dealing it seems both have now been sold onwithout ever coming on to the market. I suspect the old lady who owned them has died with no immediate family and someone had bought them as a job lot on the quiet, through the Mairie. A local arborist had been contracted to clear the back garden of the house next door which he had done by dumping a most of the cuttings in our back garden! In actuality, he was good as gold even having the good grace not to laugh openly when I felled a 30 foot Oak - the whole point of bringing the chainsaw!
With much clearing and chopping and stacking complete, it was time to head for home. The van at this stage being pretty well loaded and pretty soon it was clear all was not well. Something in the transmission was making a serious noise, a terminal noise in fact. The very last thing we needed, a breakdown. So on we limped nursing the van up to the coast. I was pretty convinced we would not make it but, no, somehow we got into Morlaix then Roscoff. Bonus; driving like a hearse, the fully laden VW recorded a very frugal 40 mpg.
So there we were,eyes down, look in, into the ferry terminal, I don't think anything could have prepared us for what came next. The terminal was on a heightened alert state on the look out for dangerous international terrorists, just like us. First cordon was the gendarmes, they had obviously been briefed, as we clanked to a halt three of them approached the van: black uniforms, shades, flack jackets and pistols. One was different, he had a proper assault rifle and he was obviously quite prepared to use it. I instructed the management to move very slowly and put both her hands on the dash board. This was a proper bathrooms moment. You have a gun, barked the first one, in French. No, I have a chainsaw, I squeaked. Show us, he commanded, very slowly I got out and moved round to the side of the van, opened the door and pointed to the chain saw. Relax all round, close door back into van.
Into the reservation booth, hand over the old booking card. Some clicking on the computer, a frown. You have a gun, said the concerned looking lady, no, I have a chain saw, said I. She didn't want to see the chainsaw but she popped out of her booth and we soon had some more international terrorist stickers on the windscreen.
Inside the cordon, in the terrorist lane and over came the internal security, no guns and far less scarey. You have a gun, no I have a chainsaw, show me. Out came the device again. Once again the chainsaw was looked at, yet, nothing else in the van got serious scrutiny.
Eventually, into customs, up went the warning hand. You have a gun, no, I have a chainsaw, let me see.... Stihl 261 - good chain saw, said the customs guy.
Finally on to the ship in a clatter of dying drive shaft, into the segregated bit of car deck reserved for international terrorists like us. Rest, relax, Plymouth would without doubt be something special.
When we got off the ferry there was the usual line for immigration, but no Apache helicopter clattered overhead, no battalion of marines stood by in battle order, it must have been the SBS weekend off and the tactical weapons team must been away dealing with a serious case of bad parking. The international terrorists clattered through immigration in bemused amusement and headed for home.
Well we tried to, 20 miles up the road the VW was sounding like it was about to destroy itself , something mechanical was about to get out and walk, I pulled into a garage forecourt and phoned the RAC, it was now just short of 21.00. By midnight a recovery truck had arrived to collect us at a garage 30 miles away. A surreal phone call ensued where the recovery driver was asking us why we were broken down where we were rather than where he was, with a strong implication that this was our fault somehow. He then threw his rattle out of his pram and said he not driving any further and was going home and leaving us there. This sent me scuttling to phone the RAC who said they would phone me back and didn't. But, shortly after, another recovery firm called, to say, they were on their way and indeed they were soon on the scene and recovery commenced, or rather didn't as by now all their drivers were out of hours so we were recovered to their garage,given a car and told to drive home. By 05.45 bed was a very welcome place and a lovely nights sleep was what I needed, gave myself and extra hour before waking up at 08.30 to find the devastation that had gone on at home while we were away.
That will wait for another day.....