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Job Tips for Campsite Couriers 3 : Midweek at Berny
Click on the link below for Part 1 of the series.
Job Tips for Campsite Couriers 3 : Midweek at Berny
A bridgehead is firmly established on French soil and it's time for a weeks training. After that we can be unleashed on the campsites and civilian populations of Europe.
Unfortunately we are only in March and the weather in Northern France falls well short of expectations.
We arrived at our base campsite where we would undergo 3 days guerilla training before embarking on our site deployments all around Europe. The base was at Berny Riviere near Paris and on a clear day you can see sod all.
We didn't even have a clear day for the whole time we were there, which amounted to almost 4 days in total. It absolutely chucked it down with rain all the the time. We were even subjected to a hailstorm at one point which had us running for cover to the campsite bar in a fit of enthusiasm to drink our weather-beaten worries away.
Tip: Get used to wine instead of beer and spirits but don't get drunk on the training course
We couldn't stay in the bar for long as there was a staff curfew of 11pm and we had so much to learn in such a short space of time. But admittedly the going rate of 4 euros a pint was a real disincentive to stay out too long.
Although we quickly realised you could get a bottle of house red for €6 which poured about 4 small glasses. I was never much of a fan of red wine before but I must say I was easily convinced.
First person to the bar was our friend Kevin and no surprise that he started acting strangely with people again by getting too full of it.
We found out the next morning that he got his jotters by the management on that first night. Maybe something of a record there. I met some great folk, many who I might never see again as we were all going to be scattered around Europe before the week was over. But also met up with my new colleagues. Of course, the main topic of conversation on the second morning was poor Kevin's immediate despatch and departure.
"Couldn't believe that guy got so drunk" I said, "You'd think he would have sobered up with the travel over from Dover"
"Are you kiddin'?" someone replied, "He was knocking 'em back in the Ferry bar"
Tip: Be prepared for the worst of weather in the early stages.
The rain hardly stopped but at least I wouldn't get homesick as it reminded me of the terrible weather back in Scotland. I knew it would follow me. It was freezing and on the first night in our mobile home I had a rotten sleep.
We couldn't keep any heating on overnight for safety reasons and I mistakenly thought my summer sleeping bag would be warm enough. I woke up chittering through the night and was so tired I couldn't be arsed getting up and delving into my rucksack for the other bag which I had brought. So remember to take warm clothes with you and waterproofs as well.
To make matters worse we got pitched about a 10 minute walk to the training area which was an adventure if the skies suddenly opened. There were puddles everywhere which offered a testing obstacle course after dark and after a few shovelfuls of fine ale and the house vin-rouge. The park actually had a large pond, which was getting larger by the day. In summer climes I'm sure it may well prove alluring of a warm evening for a gentle dip but perhaps not to be recommended as I was later told the bottom of it was thick with duck shit.
Tip: Learn to improvise. You'll be doing that all summer.
On the second night it was just as cold and no consolation to be told that last year it snowed and the trainees were housed in tents. Casualties were light. But my improvisational skills came to the fore as necessity is the mother of invention which is also the errant child of desperation as I figured a way to keep myself warmer.
I reasoned that the only source of heat in my room was my very own body temple.
Then why not try and conserve it for myself because the sleeping bags weren't the complete answer. How did I do it?
Easy! I was in the kids room so there were two single beds below with a bunk above against the wall.
I simply slept in the bunk with one of the other mattresses jammed along the front like an insulated coffin.
It was really cosy and I had a great sleep that night, apart from 14 panic attacks.
No! I'm exaggerating of course, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone suffering from claustrophobia, it's a helluva small space.
But it ensured that I got a restful sleep ready for the next days training. Overall the training was very good if you take an average score on a scale from excellent to dreadful, but as a whole it was really helpful, especially the practical exercises.
Tip: Take the training as seriously as possible. If at all possible.
We also had an unintentionally hilarious health and safety video on how to lift a cardbord box with an actor who made so many visual checks I felt like shouting "Just lift the bleedin thing!!" Then my mate gave me a nudge and whispered, "He looks like he's nicking it." And if that wasn't enough to make me snigger when the guy eventually bent down to lift the box someone behind me made a farting noise. Well, that was me away into uncontrollable fits of stifled laughter.
We ate well though, breakfast, lunch and dinner on the house and tasty food. With the exception of the spaghetti bolognese on the Wednesday which was dire and tasted like it was strained through Pavarotti's underpants.
And very little vegetables in any of the meals, except for the vegetarians of course, goes without saying doesn't it? I had assumed the French were big on vegetables in their meals. Maybe they thought they were catering to the infamous British vitamin-free, cholesterol diet.
They stoked up a big roaring log fire in the restaurant which brought a huge glow of warmth to everyone within two feet. Even chucking some cardboard boxes on top didn't heat up the sizeable room that much. Although we got warmed up soon enough when we piled into a mobile home to do cleaning training.
Tip: Learn to love cleaning. You'll probably be doing it all summer.
It looked like it had been used as a miners bothy with all the muck and grime that was in it. But at least there was 7 of us all crammed into this big shoe-box with windows and we got it scrubbed. I was deployed to clean under the couch where the pull-out bed is stored, which was easy enough and I found a €1 coin into the bargain as a kind of paltry extra. I also found an earring, a cotton-bud, a lollipop stick with some uneaten sticky substance and one piece of fusilli pasta; circa 2008. Not a bad haul for one afternoon.
Tip: Explore the local areas wherever you are.
Despite the weather I went for a wander one evening around the streets of the local village, 'Vic-Sur Aisne' as in the campsite you felt like you could be anywhere in the world.
In my case I felt like I was in Northern Finland. So it was good just to wander around for an hour or so to remind myself I was indeed in France and luckily it stayed dry.
I was immediately reminded I was in France when a ferocious sounding dog began barking at me from out of the darkness in a nearby garden. France seems to be full of huge ferocious dogs barking at people from gardens. It's happened to me before, when I was on holiday in the South of France. You'd be walking nonchalantly along to the beach when all of a sudden a huge ferocious dog would start barking at you from a garden. Must be the Gallic temperament.
But apart from huge ferocious dogs barking at you from gardens, Vic-sur-Aisne didn't let me down as it had the typically charming little streets and alleys, a small chateaux, houses fronted by window shutters with peeling paint, Citroens and Renaults parked in the streets and a little town-square with a cafe-bar that was just closing.
I did see one other guy walking around but he later turned out to be one of us who had the same idea as me. We both must have thought we were locals and ignored each other completely when we could have went for a pint together in the only pub opened. But not to be and so I headed back to the Gulag Campeggio.
Tip: Actually, don't take training that seriously. You'll learn more on the job.
On the final days training one fun exercise we had was outdoors were we were split into two teams and conducted a maintenance race. Easy enough concept, you have four tents with two teams in separate tents either side of two empty tents. It was a relay race where you run to your empty tent where the instructor gives you a simple maintenance task to complete which is either open up a carry-cot or change a light bulb.
Then you would run back to your team and collect a colleague who would run round with you and do a task, then another colleague and so on and so on until the other tent begins to fill up with people. The winning team would be the one who had all their players in the tent. Of course, we won the race as our opponents still had three people left. Though it did help the cause that five of our guys sneaked in the through the back of the tent while the instructor was busy at the front.
And that was the training over and it was time to leave for our destinations. We had an early start tomorrow on the Friday as we all headed for Italy. I was in a group who were flying at around 8am from Beauvais Airport so we would have to be up at 5am. Even the local cockerel didn't have to get up that early although I'm not crowing about it.