Author Topic: Teetotaller on 'Booze Cruise'. The English abroad... From the archives  (Read 833 times)

Offline Gyppo

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Stumbled across this in one of the darker corners of my back-up drive.   It's old enough that the first copy was probably written on a manual typewriter.



   Teetotaller on a 'Booze Cruise'

   Every now and then - when the price is right - I dust off my passport, cross The Channel to the place where Europe starts, and do my bit for Anglo-French relations.  My friends and family - thinking I bear the same relationship to diplomacy as Hitler did to Jews - are always relieved when the French let me come home.  But it would be even more surprising if they tried to keep me there.

   "Off on a Booze Cruise, then?"  Nudge, nudge, etc.  

   "Of course."  It's easier than explaining that I don't drink alcohol, and haven't for years now.  Although friends still talk about my once-legendary capacity for Wood's 100% Navy Rum with much awe-struck shaking of heads.

   Glory Days!

   This time the Sun Newspaper was doing a special offer, and my little Brother-in-Law had saved enough coupons to send me and Mum on a 'Duty Free' run for them.  It cost me just 1 to go there and back.

   We travelled overnight, by courtesy of the Stena Normandy.  Reclining chairs are available, but with people in and out all night long it makes more sense to just accept the trip as 24 hours without sleep.

   This lack of sleep is normally just a minor inconvenience, but it may have far reaching effects while you are ashore in France.

   You may - if life is particularly cruel - fall asleep on a French park bench.  Or - sin of sins and almost worthy of a summary invitation to meet Madame Guillotine - you may actually dare to fall asleep on the neatly manicured grass in one of the numerous and well kept Parcs.

   To the French grass is sacred, to be worshipped from afar, and never, never, trodden or slept upon.

   Being English you won't know this until some red faced custodian, in a vaguely paramilitary uniform, shakes you awake and starts shouting at you in a totally unintelligible way.  I wonder how long you have to live in France before you wake up thinking in the local lingo.  When you look puzzled - a perfectly natural reaction -  he will assume you are drunk, and berate you all the more vigorously.

   Those of a nervous disposition, or ex-military personnel liable to violent post traumatic 'flashbacks' should never even consider sleeping in a French park.  The consequences are too terrible to contemplate.

   Eventually the custodian, usually crimson of visage by this point, will be forced to pause for breath.

   This is the psychological moment to declare your nationality.  Stabbing yourself vigorously in the chest with your finger and proudly declaring, "Anglais".

   From this point on a fine pantomime will probably develop, unless he is one of the numerous Frenchmen who speak excellent English.  Such a paragon will politely explain the difference in customs between our two great nations, and you will feel suitably chastened for treading - or sleeping - on the sacred grass.  He, in turn, will feel terribly guilty at having assumed you were a drunken Frenchman with no finer feelings or dignity.

   The more likely outcome is a conversation - if an exchange of mangled French and English deserves such a title - punctuated with much arm waving, stamping of feet, turning away in disgust at each other's wilfully intransigent inability to grasp simple linguistic phrases, and possibly even some spitting on the ground.

   If you can get the park attendant to spit, and possibly mutter something sounding like on-coo-lay (phonetic rendering) then you have won the moral victory.  This is the time to say sweetly, and reasonably, as if you have just remembered the phrase, "Pardon, Monsiuer, excusez moi", and just walk away.

* * *

   The Captain makes a 'Hello' speech when you get on, and a 'Goodbye' speech when you get off.  Personally I think they're just recordings.

   During the night the ship is on auto-pilot once it gets past the Isle of Wight.  This is where the Solent Pilot gets off and zips back to Southampton in his little speedboat.  My theory is that he takes the rest of the ship's crew with him.

   There might be someone watching the radar, or looking over the sharp end occasionally, just in case any fishing boats or smugglers are in the way.  But you can't see anyone driving.  During daylight you can see them playing PacMan on the Navigational Computer, which is very reassuring.

   About an hour before we were due to smash into the French Coastline the Cherbourg pilot comes out in his speedy little French boat and gets aboard.  I was up on deck and as soon as it appeared through the mist I knew it was a French boat, readily identified by the plunging deckline.  With the pilot were half a dozen rough looking foreign devils.  Either they were a visiting Rock group, or the people who knew how to stop the engines and stuff like that.

   The only crew who definitely stay on board during the crossing are the 'entertainment' and 'hospitality' staff - plus the toilet cleaners.  The E & H are charged with the awesome responsibility of getting as much money from your pockets as possible.  In return they tempt you with duty free goodies - many of which are actually cheaper on shore -  and a chance to leer at nubile semi-naked dancing (prancing) lovelies whilst attempting to reduce the vast stocks behind the bar.

   Once at sea other - possibly more subtle - money extraction exercises such as Roulette and Blackjack come into play.  

   The efficiency of this money making scheme is such that Mother and I spent about 10 between us.  Bringing your own packed lunch and drink is rather frowned upon, but terribly English - 'What?'.

   We arrived at Cherbourg about 8 am (French time) which is 7 am English time.  (How are we supposed to feel like Europeans when they can't even get the damned time right!

   The harbour there is about twice the size of Padstow, Cornwall, and it stinks of fish.  It stinks twice as much as Padstow too.  The fishermen look pretty much the same as Cornish ones, and so do the fishing boats.  Just the names are different.

   French Postmen however are easily identified.  They have a label on their back that says 'Le Poste'.

   French money is weird.  One Franc is worth something, at somewhere between 7 or 8 to the pound, but the little coins - Centimes - are a joke.  A typically sneaky French joke.  They smile as they give them to you in change, but hate to take them back.  If you're not careful you end up with a pocket full of Mickey Mouse money.

     When you try to change it back into real money on the boat the chap at the Bureau de Change won't even touch centimes.  Even if you have a hundred of the damned things, making one Franc, he just doesn't want to know.

   On the boat I went for a prowl around once Mum had settled for the night, and a miserable drunken prat from Yorkshire decided he liked me.  He then proceeded to tell me all his woes.

   He talked about redundancy, divorce, exploitation, injuries, etc.  He was - of course - the only person to whom these things had ever happened.  About the only thing he'd missed out on was drowning.  I'm not a violent man, but if I'd managed to get him up on deck I would have willingly corrected Fate's little oversight for him.

   Why do weirdoes talk to me?  Why?  Even more to the point, why do I put up with them?  He tried to get into a fight with a bunch of Indians, which was an excellent chance to slip off and leave him to his fate.  Unfortunately - for me - an older Indian gent stopped the fight and the Yakking Yorkie hunted me down again.  If he was a punishment for something - a manifestation of Karma - I must have been a really bad boy in a previous life.


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Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Thanks for the warning Gyppo. Should I ever find myself in the UK or France, I now know the pit falls of taking a Booze Cruise to travel across the channel.

I can't help wondering how they would deal with an American with a Texas accent though.  8)

Enjoyable read - Thanks for sharing it with us.
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