Saturday, 12 March 2016

The last day

The last day. I woke to the near silent buzz from my wristband telling me it was somewhere within 20 minutes of 6am. It was time to go home. I showered, dressed and clattered around as much as possible to wake Clarissa. Fortunately it worked.

Breakfast was a slight variation on the theme as I saw they had raw eggs and an egg boiler, no bread suitable for soldiers though, but I could live with that. With an egg silently cooking for six minutes I demolished a fruit salad with yoghurt and brewed tea. I needed the fuel. There is nothing quite like the simplicity of a boiled egg, though I can’t think if we’ve even got an
egg cup at home in Contrary Towers, no doubt I will find one when I am sorting out for the move.

The move. Urk, I’ve not thought about that properly for 24 hours, something to look forward to. Or something.

Anyway, egg lovely, tea lovely - okay acceptable - and whilst the range of cake was, well, cake singular it was perfectly moist and acceptable. Back to the room and after one last email had to be sent - not by me - bags were grabbed, Monty got in his travelling pouch and the keys were returned, payment having been organised the night before and we were off in to the early Versailles sunshine. And as it turned out patches of fog.

The route from Versailles - or Paris - to Le Havre is an irritating one, regular peagé where you have to pay every so often. Now this is nominally fine, you rattle along at 130KPH, you whizz in, you pay, you roar out. It can be a giggle. But you also have to have payment ready or every advantage gained by sitting on the limit is lost *massively* when you stop and watch every single vehicle who knows what they are doing whizz by. I was not best pleased. Time was tight even after my insistence we started early and losing several minutes checking coins was not doing my sense of humour much good.

I knew I should have insisted we be gone by 08:30.

The planned stop up of wine didn’t happen as there had clearly been a misunderstanding and a suitable place hadn’t been researched so it was a case of finding any old supermarket to get a few bottles that I’d promised to bring back. It also meant I got to see bits of Le Havre I didn’t wish to see though there was the bonus that I could refill the Contrary Clio before heading back to Blighty.

Back at the ferry terminal there was only one vehicle in front of us as we reached the entrance. A *long* time later we finally moved forward, the problem? It was a van with a few lads in it and there was clearly some kind of problem. We shot through. And then stopped at the passport/police checkpoint. Cue waiting again. We did get to see the contents of the back of the van, it looked like a house move, that or very eclectic French burglars who know there is a market for house plants and mattresses in the UK.

As the police were being thorough the handsome young policeman attempted to see through the dirt of the back windows to see what we had, he then asked me if he could look at my boot. I was shocked, we’d only just met! Oh, I see. I opened. He looked, I’m sure I heard a snigger. Yes, a little untidy back there. You have wine? Yes, I said and lifted the duvet and backpack stopping them from rattling about. Another wry smile.

Yep, I was in the only english car crossing the channel with half a dozen bottles of fizz and a similar number of red. Totally letting the side down. I’m surprised I wasn’t directed to the nearest - unfindable - hypermarket to load the car down properly.

We moved forward, stopped, switched off the engine and before you could say [insert favourite phrase here] I had to start the engine as loading was beginning. That’s how much time we’d lost we were there and had zero wait, mind you by now I was desperate for a pee and no time to look. The Contrary Clio would once more be on the top deck, which meant struggling over the bumpy bits and a very steep ramp, fortunately this time there was no one tiddling at the top so I didn’t have to attempt a very steep hill start whilst the wheels were effectively in chocks. On the deck the usual dance routine was going on with cars being placed or told to turn and placed in the opposite direction, finally it was our turn and I moved forward only to be told to reverse, maybe I was positioned incorrectly, but no, I reversed all the way back, not even in the lines and the loader man indicated that this was fine. So everyone else is packed in nose to tail and the Contrary Clio was sat all by itself looking suitably plucky. That or he could see I’m really bad at parking and it would be easier this way.

Cabin bags were grabbed and we went off to get our access code. Of course I managed to go the wrong way as I misinterpreted the sign pointing to the right for reception as meaning turn right. It obviously meant through this door and then look left. Idiot. It really had been one of those journeys and made me think all I want to be now is home.

Fortunately this time there was no all pervading stench of vomit so it was in to the cabin, shoes off and sit on the bed sending a last few messages before we disappeared off. By the time Clarissa returned from the WiFi area in the bar I’d shed my dress and was snuggled down, the rocking motion of the ship having sent me straight off to sleep.

I woke. I went for a cup of tea. I uploaded my blog for the day before, though without any images as the WiFi was rather limited. It certainly looked lovely out there and I wasn’t about to complain about having a few minutes in the sun on deck. I also deposited some keys in
Davy Jones Locker by request, hopefully they didn’t hit any passing submarines meaning I inadvertently started a war. As you do. But it lacked the excited scampering of the previous ferry crossings so after a pensive walk along the deck I returned to the bar area for more tea. A girl can’t live on words alone.

Your keys are here.
I also didn’t feel particularly comfortable with the attention I was getting from some lorry drivers and as I was by now better at being disagreeable than flirty it was best I left the area. I found myself by the ferry reception from where I could see the Contrary Clio sitting in the middle of the deck looking like I can’t park. I
realised that when it came to leave every single passenger would see her sitting there, badly parked and alone.


But I saw something else, something I couldn’t quite capture with a camera, in her back screen there was a reflection of the Tricolore in her back screen. The tears welled up again as I thought of this incredible journey through five countries and over 3000 miles and all along this little French car proved utterly reliable, comfortable and plucky. She’s acquired the sort of identity that can only be given to something special. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before but early on when I was trying to work out how to remember the registration number in case of being stopped by the police I came up with the acronym EXcellent For Contrary Expeditions. The number didn’t fit in which meant when we were asked for the registration in Volterra - as we’d driven through the medieval town - Clare had to provide it as I had no clue.

Let’s face it, I have no clue full-stop.

As one of the lorry drivers had switched allegiance from the bar area to hang around and has now hanging around a little too close to me for comfort I returned to the cabin to freshen and collect my belongings. As we entered Portsmouth the gods had decided that maybe they should be kind and the sun was definitely shining. It was fascinating to watch some fragments of our navy tied up having various works carried out. I even saw a number of boats that would have been built in Swan Hunter’s shipyard when I was but a babe in arms, the HMS Bristol being particularly significant.

Finally we gathered in the reception area so everyone could look at the now legendary Contrary Clio in pride of place alone on the deck with the lesser cars all being nose to tail at the sides. I don't think Binks of Beccles could have got better advertising if they tried! You could almost hear her say “I am the Contrary Clio, hear me growl”. She could also do with a wash. And the floor emptied of sweet wrappers. Oh and you remember the bulb I had to replace 3000 miles ago in France? Gone again, FFS. It wouldn’t be so bad on the passenger side, no air conditioning hose. Not that this works as I found in Nice. I shall add that to the list of things that need addressing at her next service.

Bloody cars with personality.

Anyway. I strode out on to the middle of the deck wishing I’d worn heels so I could have done so with attitude. Unsurprisingly it took a while before we could leave as we would be the last off as they needed to lower the ramp. On the bright side it gave me time to compose myself, I really wasn’t sure how I felt to be back in Blighty given that I really was now in uncharted waters with no emotional support. This will be fun.

Finally the ramp began to lower. Oh. So. Very. Bloody. Slowly. When it reached six inches I reckoned we could jump the gap but the killjoys insisted we waited until it was all the way down. Finally we vibrated down the very vibratory ramp. Wait a minute, why does the iBastard accept vibratory as a proper word? Half the words I’ve typed in over the last few weeks have been squiggled red or changed but not that!

Questions need to be asked in parliament.

We cleared passport control. We managed not to look guilty at customs. We scuttled out on to the big road with me incanting “drive on the left” repeatedly and… We saw a traffic jam. After 3000+ miles I saw my first proper traffic jam on the A27 and it was quite epic. Mile after mile after not moving. Fortunately the other way.

Welcome home.

And there’s the other thing. After said 3000 miles of driving around Europe the first time I felt in fear of my life, other than in the rain in Florence, was here with the most ignorant bunch of selfish fuckwits in the world. If you want to look at the worst drivers in Europe I present the English as a prime candidate. Well, after Parisian 75 plate drivers, obvs.

I particularly enjoyed the M25 as we sat. And sat. And sat. Poor Clarissa was supposed to be going to the country music festival at the O2 after we dropped her bags off at her home and with every pause the arrival time crept forwards. It was horrible, I hated it and to be honest it did nothing for my sense of well being.

So let’s cut a long and tedious story short.

We arrived, bags were deposited and finally Clarissa was deposited with the relief I imagine that I was no longer there in full harpy mode. I reset Tom for one last time, chose a playlist I’d picked weeks ago and headed north of the river.

As I rolled over the last mile the Moody Blues accompanied me. A fitting end though the lyrics did leave me looking at the world through a tear blurred veil. The playlist had one last perfect moment, as I entered the underground carpark at Contrary Towers Simon and Garfunkel serenaded me with the Sound of Silence. One line in particular hit home:

People talking without speaking

But it wasn’t quite all over. Being incredibly contrary there was one last diversion. You may recall that three weeks ago we ignored packing, pulled on posh frocks and decadently said goodbye to London. Well I was invited back to say hello and after a delightful meal and conversation in St Katherine docks I sat in Sky Lounge and raised a glass to my best friend a few feet from where we’d left.

But a lifetime ago.

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