Job Tips for Campsite Couriers 2 : Things to do in Dover When it's Dead.
Click on the link below for Part 1 of the series.
Job Tips for Campsite Couriers 2 : Things to do in Dover When it's Dead.
The odyssey continues as your adventurous protagonist leaves the shores of old Blighty.
A seaborne invasion of the continent takes place across the shimmering waters of the English Channel.
It's time to meet up with fellow couriers making that trip.
I spent a quiet evening on my own in Dover after booking into a B&B called the Churchill after the famous Winston of the WWII conflagration. I had just a few beers around some of the bars in the town that night.
I woke up early as breakfast was booked in for 7am. Rising out of bed at 6.59am I reckoned I could make the dining room in 60 seconds flat.
I had another tasty English breakfast like the one in London but thankfully with no beans included. This Guest House was a purely capitalist enterprise with no room for any lefties on the menu. The fried egg was safe as Winston Churchill would have had none of it especially since the Labour Party kicked him out of office in 1946 even after he stuffed Hitler.
That must have been a sore one for poor Winnie but that's Democracy as the Brits blamed him for the powdered eggs in their war rations. They were no match for the insidious tide of Communistic baked beans. The Red Menace was truly unstoppable.
I met one of my future workmates at breakfast as he was staying in the place. I had briefly seen him the day before but had forgotten about him. Not deliberately, just a bad memory. I didn't realise he was going to do the same job as me.
He was going to Holland though and since the campsite was not too far from Amsterdam he was looking forward to a great summer. Apparently it's a popular choice with campsite couriers, so perhaps they like windmills, clogs and cheese and all that kind of exotic paraphanalia I reckoned.
Tip: Get in contact on the social network before you go
I said to him that I had half expected to see Dover awash with a tidal wave of campsite couriers last night to which he replied that it had been. After my quiet night of solitude and reflection I was somewhat surprised when he told me that about 20 couriers had all got together and had a monumental piss-up the previous night.
And to make matters worse they had been in two of the same pubs that I had been drinking in. And to make matters even more worse I later recognised a couple of faces at training who I had seen at the 'Eight Bells' pub that night.
It had all been organised through a 'Facebook' site that someone had set up especially for the occasion. Now why didn't I think of that? In this 21st century communication age it was obvious that folk would have arranged to meet up through the internet. But I suppose I'm a MySpacer anyway and gave up on Facebook long ago. Probably saved myself a monumental hangover anyway as I was told me that they had really partied the night before.
After checking out of the B&B I went to the company meeting point at the train station. A big crowd were gathered there as we were all checked in as present by the staff.
Tip: Don't be shy. Get to know the couriers you meet. They're not all raving extroverts so don't feel intimidated
One guy came up to me and shook hands to say hello. He liked my Rory Gallagher t-shirt. He seemed friendly enough but that might have been helped along by the beer which I could smell from his breath.
He seemed a little odd to me, which turned out to be no surprise giving future events. More of that later. I won't mention his name so let's call him Kevin since his real name was Colin.
I sat next to an interesting guy on the bus, because in a strange irony we were being picked up by two coaches from the train station. Nothing would be as it seems from now on, I thought. My bus companion worked as a director of videos and had actually recently completed one for a famous rock band so things were going well for him.
But summertime beckoned and he was even putting all that on hold for the season, preferring the chance to work in Spain over the next few months. The bus driver addressed us through the microphone giving us all the details about health and safety and suchlike as well as cracking a few jokes in a sort of deadpan fashion. Quite funny but hopefully just filling in as a warm up until the strippers appeared.
Tip: Don't turn up hungover on the first day. Give it time, you've got all summer.
One of the senior staff sitting up front took the microphone, welcomed us and wished us all the best, after which Kevin asked her;
"Why did you say 'Good morning'?"
"Just being friendly" she explained,
"But it's 9.30" he continued,
"Well, yes, I know" she said,
"In the evening!" he replied,
I couldn't believe my ears and neither could anyone else up the front of the bus. My ears in particular can't be trusted as they only hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. Alas, I can't keep my eyes on them as they're stuck around the corner where they can't be seen.
I can see the end of my nose if I close one eye and look down with the other, although not much beyond the end of that. I looked at my mate and he looked at me and we both looked at each other with an incredulous "What the f.....?" expression, checking each others ears by way of mutual co-operation and reassurance.
"It's 9.30 in the morning" Kevin was told by the senior, "Do you think it would still be broad daylight at 9.30 in the evening?"
An awkward silence befell us but I think we were all thinking along the same lines. This guy literally didn't know what time of day it was. By the way, his real name wasn't Colin. It may have been Eric or Archibald or something like that. This is of course a smokescreen of disinformation to spare the guilty some embarassment.
Tip: Learn all you can from the experienced staff
We boarded the 'Ro-Ro' ferry as they're sometimes nicknamed.
This means 'Roll on-Roll off' since they take vehicles or maybe because the passengers are all hammered most of the time.
I spoke to a few couriers on the crossing to Calais, getting the lowdown on the lifestyle and all the hints and tips that might help me along. Like try not to sweat over the sheets when you're changing a bed during a heatwave and use glass cleaner on everything except glass.
Best tip was to get the work done early in the morning each day which means you can lie on the beach all afternoon.
One guy from Ireland had been doing the job for nine seasons so I figured it can't be a bad way to make a living abroad. I phoned my friend as it would be my last chance to make a cheap call on the mobile.
I thanked him for lending me his laptop and iPod and promised I'd send a postcard. I then phoned the debt company about my arrears and offered to send them a postcard too but they said they'd prefer the money.
Tip: Leave all nationalist chauvinism at home and go continental
The ferry crossing was otherwise uneventfull as we cruised across the English Channel or 'La Manche' as the French prefer to call it. Understandable they might differ of course as they've as much right to call it what they want as plenty of it is washed up on their shores. It translates into English as 'The Sleeve' which sounds a bit prosaic for the French.
But who called it the English Channel anyway? Was it conquered by anyone? Were any naval battles fought for the copyright of this narrow strip of water? These are the questions I pondered as we sailed away from Blighty. Maybe Lord Nelson 'discovered' it one night after an uproarious drinking session in early 19th century Dover.
It may be a moot point that the locals had known about the channel for centuries, but until one of England's legendary sea-lords paid it some attention then it wasn't even on the map to all intents and purposes. It's a contentious issue for Anglo-French relations particularly since you can't plant a flag on water, unless you've got an enormous pole that can reach the sea-bed.
Tip: Keep that iPod charged up or take a book. If you're sociable a deck of cards is handy.
We berthed at Calais which, as the main Gateway to Europe for British travellers was a pretty dire anti-climax. Maybe the French are hinting that we should turn back or not build our hopes up too much.
We then had a 3 hour journey to our base campsite outside of Paris but to kill the boredom the bus driver played us a live video feed of the traffic up ahead from an onboard camera. I was transfixed. But I should have brought a book or bought a newspaper.
The couriers on the other bus, we found out later, had been watching a DVD of a Hollywood movie, I think it was 'Underworld' or something like that. Irrespective of what it was, I think we got the better of the two deals.