What Never to Say to Security at the Channel Tunnel..

The Control Technique certificate, an annual and rather tedious necessity for the average Frenchman holds for us a somewhat elusive quality. Driving as I do an ancient, unrecognised Japanese import about France means that I am easily recognised by my friends but has the somewhat inconvenient issue of having to take it across the Channel annually to put it through its MOT.

While it is possible to gain a ‘Certificate de Conformité gris’  and imatriculate unusual cars at the Prefecture – it had become a delicate balance between whether the cost of realigning the headlights to that of a left-hand drive will be cost-effective based on its remaining lifespan. So it was that I found myself turning out of the gate last thursday, having shed a crowd of French teenage boys in the aftermath of my 14 year old’s birthday sleepover, and heading for Calais.

It took only twenty metres to discover that the gearbox had just failed, and thankfully ‘husband à l’etranger’ was with me, and with him – where there’s a will, there’s a way! To add to the challenge, last thursday was a bank holiday which, unlike in the UK means that everything is closed. We managed to limp the car to the nearby service station and discovered that the oily patch in our parking-space in the courtyard was in fact the contents of our ‘Boite de Vitesse’ (gear-box)

Thankfully we discovered that once we had purchased a suitable funnel and a bottle of ‘Huile de Transmission’ (gear-box oil) the car actually engaged in gear and moved. Stopping to refill the gearbox every 80km we made it to the check-in at the Channel Tunnel.

For the first time in our experience, the queue for check-in was so lengthy that we managed to miss our check-in time and were relegated to a train some four and a half hours later. Not to be outdone, we made our usual manoeuvre of trying to make a bolt for it past the security to the embarkation lanes by holding our ‘G’ hanger upside down and back to front whilst all the other cars were sporting ‘X’s and ‘Y’s. We were not successful.

Having failed to convince the security that the fault of our delay lay with the enormous queue the other side of the ‘check-in’ and in a desperate attempt to catch an earlier train I piped up, smiling sweetly..

‘Monsieur, C’est très important que nous prendrons le prochain train car nous avons un rendez-vous chez une garage en Angleterre. Nous avons une fuite d’huile’

(Its very important that we take the next train because we have an appointment at the garage in England. We have an oil leak)

whereupon Monsieur Le Securité replied, also smiling sweetly but firmly –

‘Madame –

Si vous avez une fuite d’huile, vous n’allez pas prendre ce train, ni le train en quatre heures et demie, ni aucun autre train, aujourd’hui, demain, ni aucun autre jour.’

(‘Madam – If you have an oil leak, you are not going to be taking this train, nor the train in 4 and a half hours, nor any other train, not today, tomorrow nor any other day!’)

So there you have it, along side telling security you have a weapon in the car, drive with LPG or have an Ash sapling, where you will inevitably be delayed whilst the offending article is removed and yourself interrogated, this is probably the worst thing that you can say to a Channel Tunnel security guard.

As luck would have it, the depannage (breakdown) lorry driver who was sent to deal with us had a smile that reached past his lips to a sparkle in his eye. Having minimized the damaging statement to the fact that the leak was really tiny (honest!) and that it didn’t leak at all when the vehicle was stationary (difficult to uphold since we had been stopped over a puddle and as one knows, oil likes to freely disperse itself into an ENORMOUS slick in water), the depannage engineer rang through to the train to request instant passage on the next train –

…possibly because he appreciated that we spoke the language – although the children cringing in the back would hasten to differ.

…Possibly because he’d never seen a car like it and didn’t want to tackle its unknown engine on a bank holiday.

…Possibly because he was just a very nice man.

We were on the next train out!


5. Entrée

The guinea pigs were an essential part of the advance party, their cages crammed in along side the lawnmower, a stack of plates, cutlery, frying pan and whisk, to make the 6 hour trip across the channel via Euro-tunnel.  A rental house had at last been found after months of losing out to the three or four other couples also searching in the same neighbourhood of Rouen, Normandy. It conspired that Harry would have to work during the move, leaving me to finish the last DIY details, direct the removal men, and organise the children “tout seul”!

The removal guys were saints from heaven, taking in their stride the fact that I had packed literally nothing, and proceeding to fill mountains of boxes with all my worldly goods. Effortlessly the furniture began to descend down the stairs – entire chests of drawers with filled drawers still intact. My dream neighbour arrived with a steaming pan of soup and the entire team took a welcome lunch break. My father-in –law spent the day screwing on door-handles to doors which had had none for our entire life in the house and servicing my car for its journey south.  Late that evening the removal men pulled out of the driveway, somewhat to my consternation turning northbound and I was almost too exhausted to care whether I would ever see my belongings again.

Surveying the empty house, once the children had fallen asleep “camping-style” in one of the bedrooms, I quickly realised that there would be no sleep for me! Two bedrooms desperately needed painting now that all the furniture was removed, and this particular evening was my last in the UK. The following morning we were to set of south, the keys would be left with the letting agent and we would say farewell to our friends. I gathered up my last remnants of energy, took up my roller-brush and set to work!

The 20th August dawned the hottest day on record. We headed south sweltering in the heat only to meet the M25 at a standstill. The car, which had spent most of it’s life, struggling on with meagre top-ups of oil, now decided to flash its oil warning-light with alarming persistence. My father-in-law had declared that it had taken 7 litres of oil to fill, and now in horror I suspected an oil leak at the very out-set of my journey. It was inconceivable that 7 litres of oil could have disappeared, except through a very large hole in the sump. I am not a calm and rational person where cars are concerned, and panic set in! The cars were crawling at a few miles per hour, and there was no hard shoulder. We soldiered on, hot, stressed and irritable and at last found ourselves on the Dartford crossing in the central lane. Making a bid for the hard-shoulder required crossing some seven lanes of equally irritable motorists. Their goal of the toll-booth in sight, the drivers became increasingly suspicious of my motives, and suspecting queue-jumping made a point of blocking the path! At last, and by this time a catastrophic heap of stress, I pulled over into the emergency escape lane, pulled out my phone and called Harry in France.

The phone call was quickly curtailed! Within seconds a Police 4×4 drew up behind me, the officer rapidly insisting that I had chosen an extremely dangerous spot to stop. He was unprepared for the wreck of a woman he faced. Myself, by this time  somewhat hysterical, he was bombarded with irrelevant detail, emigration, husband whereabouts unknown, a lorry load of furniture inexplicably heading north, and finally that of the oil. Rising to the challenge, and taking me in hand, he parted the traffic at the toll-booths, escorted me to the other side, opened the engine and proceeded to check oil-levels, water-levels, tyre levels, and once finally satisfied with my sanity level, wished me a “bon-voyage” with instructions on where all the other High-way patrol vehicles were located in case of further mishap.

As it happened, the location of all the Highway patrol vehicles was extremely useful. Now finding myself running late for my Euro-tunnel crossing, I was able to put my foot down with a general confidence that I wouldn’t get stopped. It was a somewhat wry grin on my face when I pulled into the Euro-tunnel check-in only to be pulled over by customs and swabbed for drugs and explosives!

We arrived at our destination some two hours later, relieved to see the same removal men lounging on our chairs in the driveway chatting over a cup of tea with my husband. The sun was starting to lower in the sky and this group of very practical men had already set up the beds ready for our first night in France.