Saturday, August 21, 2010


We woke up this morning here, at La Ferme de Wolphus, between Calais and St Omer.

It was a beautiful morning in French Flanders. In the blueish light of early morning I could see the horses swishing their tails in the field outside the cottage.

Jean-Jacques Behagel brought us a breakfast of croissants, fresh baguette and various honeys and jams. It was an unpretentious and pleasant place and he was very friendly.

We drove to Dunkerque through the flat fields, many of them with round bales of hay and all bathed in golden light. There were pretty villages and flowers everywhere.

The boat trip was enjoyable: we spent quite a lot of it on deck in the sunshine, taking photos as the White Cliffs of Dover approached.

The M20 from Dover was pretty crowded, and then we got to the M25 which was like a slowly-moving car park. As we approached the M1, again there was near-gridlock.

It took us hours to get home. We did something like 2,400 miles in the two and a half weeks and didn't come across a bad traffic jam anywhere in Belgium, Holland or France.

We stopped at Toddington Services where I found a whole set of car keys and house keys hanging up in a cubicle in the Ladies.

Firstly, I shouted to see if the owner was still about

I showed them to one of the attendants and asked where I should hand them in. His response was to open his mouth and keep it that way, saying nothing. Apparently low-life characters in mediaeval paintings were always painted with their mouth open and, feeling rather snobbish, I felt I was getting a live demonstration of the grim truth on which this was based.

I showed them to another attendant who asked me if I'd found them in the Gents. This would seem somewhat unlikely, I pointed out, but his grasp of English was so limited that I finally gave up on talking to him.

Finally I handed them in to the Marks and Spencer supervisor who seemed to have a brain and to be prepared to use it: what ensued I know not because we went off to eat something.

I had a baked potato with baked beans and salad and some fruit salad and it was actually okay. But whilst we were eating the music system played the same song again, and again, and again. It was a whiny lament sung by a woman who was apparently having her fingernails pulled out, one by one, and who found the process painful, yet strangely boring too.

The song was on a loop. Again and again and again and AGAIN and finally I went and found the nearest assistant and asked WHY? and COULD IT BE TURNED OFF PLEASE?

"Hope so," he said, "it's doing my head in."

He suggested I should try the supervisor who was manning the other checkout. Except that she wasn't. Nobody was. We left the song to carry on its gloomy course. We finished our meals and went out into the grey British weather to continue our crawl up the M1. We landed in Dover at one o'clock British time and got home to Leeds at half past ten.

It's been a delightful couple of weeks in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, and Silverback and Stephen have been wonderful company.

But - - - - now then, Britain, I have a message for you. I love you. I still love you, in spite of everything. I love your countryside, your wildlife and quite a few of your people.

But by heck, Britain, you're making it difficult for me. I hate it when people complain about our country lazily, and without any thought. But if I'd been someone coming into Britain today from France, and if this was my first experience of the country, I would have thought that I'd dropped into Hell.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'No comment' from Blogland, so far I notice.

All other incidents aside, I'm not sure you can judge England by its motorway services, or the people who are unfortunate enough to work there.
Verification: aqyanc describes England's motorway services perfectly.


8:13 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Thank you for your comment, Alicia - I think that anyone else from Blogland probably just sighed, sadly. I agree that England shouldn't entirely be judged by its motorway services - - - but does a nation get the motorway services that it deserves? Or that it puts up with?

8:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmm, a bit like parents getting the school their children deserve.
In which case we should all be more demanding. I did go into an Mway services in Wales the other day and it was very pleasant. Food for thought there then...

8:30 am  

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