During my many trips back and forth across the English Channel, there is one crossing that sticks in my memory. It was one of the occasions when I was travelling with my car and I’d arrived to catch the ferry at the very last minute one evening (cheaper rate at the end of the day) so I hadn’t had time to visit the toilets before embarking.
Consequently, as soon as I had parked at the designated place and had made my way to the stairs, I reached the general deck and rushed to the nearest toilets. So pressing was my need, I did not remove my coat thus, afterwards, when I pulled up my knickers and tights, I was unaware that I had caught up the flared skirt of my dress and tucked that in at my waist.
Then I went to the cafeteria and chose a table to deposit my carrier bag and coat, I took it off, folded it, set it down and slipped the strap of my bag over my shoulder. Then walked the distance to the counter.
All I can say is how lucky I was that apart from a group of people well over to my left chatting around a table near the counter and a woman and her little boy at a table nearer where I had placed myself, all the other tables, usually chockablock at breakfast or lunchtime, didn’t have occupants.
It was when I arrived back at my table with my supper tray that the woman at the table near me, rushed over and told me about my tucked-up skirt. I set my tray down and felt at the back of me. “Whoops,” I said, “good job I haven’t been parading around the whole boat like that!”
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Years later, when staying at my parent’s, I saw Joanna Lumley do that in the role of Patsy in the comedy show, Absolutely Fabulous and I wondered if one of the writers of the show had been amongst the group of people on the far table that evening on the ferry!
The trip of my arrival to actually take up residence in France also sticks in my memory, this time for passing through customs. It was still necessary in 1989 to make a declaration beforehand if bringing valuable goods into the country. I was in the process of doing that for the bulk of my furniture and they were to follow in a few weeks. Meanwhile I was taking the things I considered essential: my Amstrad word processor being one.
That was what made me nervous, for it and some computer programmes had cost well over £500 so perhaps the customs would class it as contraband and confiscate it or charge duty on it. I had placed it with its consul and printer well ensconced in amongst clothes and wedged in by boxes – to be sure of it travelling safely – and heaped above it were boxes containing groceries, house paint, wallpaper and tools and some essential reference books so if the customs men unloaded my car to see everything, they’d think I had deliberately tried to hide it. Everything was piled up high behind the front seats, the back folded down to extend the boot capacity, topping the lot was my portable, architectural drawing board and there were even boxes and a holdall strapped into the front seat.
When it was my turn to approach the passport inspector’s booth, being a British car and so a right-hand drive, I steered it close to the wall to make it easier for me to reach across the passenger seat to hand my passport through the open window and into the waiting hand of the inspector.
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“Bonjour Madame,” he said. I called back a cheerful “Bonjour,” and after a casual flick through the passport, he returned it to me with a nod. Next the customs. A serious-looking official, approaching retirement age and wearing wire-framed glasses, stepped forward and waved me down, but of course I was already drawing to a halt. Without a word he made a tour of the car, peering in the back windows, then he came round to my side of the car and asked though my open window how long I was proposing to stay in France.
“I’ve come to live here,” I told him.
He beamed at me, then took a quick look through the back passenger window and declared, “Ah, students’ materials! That’s fine, Madame, you can go on through.” I was 48 years of age, albeit looking younger than my age, but I certainly wouldn’t have passed for a university student, I concluded he either needed his glasses upgraded or, by putting my belongings under the title of students’ materials, it meant there was no duty to be paid.
Have you ever experienced an international move quite like this? Let us know all about it in the comments section below.