I wasn’t paying particular attention to the local South East evening news broadcast the other day. Then, suddenly, a story caused my ears to prick up. It concerned the case of a young 15 year old girl whose anti-social behaviour was such that she had been banned from the town centre of wherever it was she lived (I had missed that bit). That, in itself is not very interesting. I accept that. However, it seems that the magistrates had also placed an Order upon her effectively banning the miscreant from ‘swearing’ anywhere in East Sussex. That is a massive area and apart from being immensely difficult to enforce I pondered the point about what she might do should the urge to ‘swear’ overwhelm her. Could she, for example, pop over the border into Kent and say, issue a jolly good obscene rant in Tunbridge Wells without fear of further action? Also, what is to stop her mumbling a few obscenities under the duvet at night?
I digress. Now to the purpose of this post!
Mid Channel July 2013: Carol the weather girl on BBC1 national news tells lies! She said quite definitely that the weather was set fair – indeed very fair – for our proposed day trip to France. Back to back sunshine and temperatures right up in the twenties. In the light of this I duly booked a day trip to Calais in the full knowledge that under the summer sunshine we might dine outside at a little restaurant we have found in St Omer and do a little duty free shopping – wine and smelly cheeses basically.
Well, Carol’s bloody lies almost ruined the day. As a result of her lies we endured the outward bound crossing from hell. A voyage into the unknown! A journey that could easily have ended in hundreds perishing! Basically it was her fault I purchased the tickets; her fault because the ensuing weather was nothing at all like she said it would be.
As we boarded at the Port of Dover the whole place was in fog; the temperature reading my dashboard gave me was just 8 degrees. F**king brilliant I can tell you as I we were dressed for heat. Shirley said, “Oh well it’s probably only a bit of sea mist. It’ll burn off soon.” Bloody didn’t though. Of course I should have known better than to take the cheapest fare going. A mere high season £23 return through ‘MyFerryLink’ aboard an old, former ‘Seafrance’ rust bucket going by the name of ‘Roden.’ The ticket even said that I could take up to nine passengers within that price. However, I don’t think my car could hold nine – even if those accompanying me included Snow White and the seven dwarves! I need a shoe horn to get them all in at best and Lord knows what the gendarmerie the other side would have made of it.
Things did not bode well when it dawned on me I couldn’t even see the harbour wall upon setting off. We lost sight of the White Cliffs completely a mere few hundred yards out such was the density of ‘mist’. In the Channel itself one could barely spot the end of one’s nose. Add to that the constant use of the fog horn – a sound as annoying as that of a wood pigeon sat on your bedroom window ledge – and you get the picture. Then, no more than a mile out, we were inflicted with a couple of minutes of continuous, high repetition blasts on said fog horn which intimated, to my mind, a possible collision with I don’t know what because I couldn’t see about me. My fears of my destiny not being in my own hands were then confirmed as the captain obviously decided to slam on the anchors with some haste causing a stream of charcoal coloured smoke to emit from the funnel adding significantly I suspect to global warming. Thankfully I wasn’t holding a mug of tea at the time. Some on board were. Some on board got scalded! Like I implied, the ‘Roden’ has obviously seen better days. Immediately following the emergency stop – insofar as a ship can perform that feat – a great and ominous noise; a massive clunking of metal against metal – emanated from the engine room. That noise remained with us for the rest of the journey, added to which we now had the sound of welders trying to fix what was f**ked below decks. We could barely hear ourselves speak. Of course, other passengers were also showing signs of concern. The only outside deck on the ship was at the rear. Most congregated there, even the non-smokers now chain smoking, all checking out where the life boats were; just in case! Indeed, so many of us were on the rear deck I was concerned the front of the bloody boat would rise out of the sea like a creature out of a Greek myth.
The visibility worsened mid Channel as we limped ever onwards, the safe haven of Calais now only a dream. As I strolled toward the shelter and warmth of the cafeteria inside I passed a young couple holding hands as if their very lives depended on such contact. I heard the male say to his girlfriend, “This is the perfect scene, what with all the fog; the knackered engine; the racket and all that, for a film about a zombie infection.” Armed with the subliminal effect of that thought in my mind I was somewhat taken aback to note that at exactly that moment six shaven headed blokes, all wearing sleeveless tee-shirts all with biceps like ‘post spinach Popeye’ coming toward me through the mist. If anything looked like zombies they certainly did. Thankfully, upon overhearing their accents I determined they were likely Polish lorry drivers simply popping outside for a cigarette or two. Onward and upward, ever so slowly we pressed on until eventually Calais was in sight and pulse rates could begin to restore themselves to something approaching normal. We were still frozen to the marrow though, what with having all the wrong kit on. All I can say is, ‘Thanks a bunch Carol.’ The return journey thankfully went without hitch and our day in France had, as ever, proven successful and enjoyable with no help whatsoever from the BBC weather girl.
However, as a final observation, within the restaurant area, upon the wall, I had spotted a massive notice board upon which was a map of the ships interior area and levels detailing where the ‘muster’ points were in the event of the cry, ‘abandon ship’ being hailed. Basically, this chart had a ‘You Are Here’ plus directions to the ‘points’ you should congregate if disaster struck. That in itself, is nothing much to talk of. What caught my attention however were the little silver pinheads packed together in little packs a small outcrop of each under the written sentences providing such directions. Shirley had joined me and advised me that these were ‘braille’ versions of the emergency procedures. That stopped me in my tracks!
“What’s the point of that Shirl?”
“Obviously so that blind people will know what to do in the event of an emergency.”
“I don’t get that though. With no disrespect toward the blind, first of all how will they know there’s a notice board there? What’s the chance, say, on a ship this size, of a blind bloke finding his hand on the notice board at the exact moment the Captain said to get to the ‘muster’ points as a pre-requisite to taking to the lifeboats? In the unlikely event he did find himself with his hand on the board and felt the braille notices then, first of all he’d think, ‘Oh, that’s a bit of a result,’ then when he read that he had to go to point 4, amidships, climb stairwell 6, or take the lift by the toilets, then take first left, second right and so on, he’d know he was stuffed. He’s blind – it’s a non-starter. He’d think that someone was taking the piss.”
Shirley suggested that they were only trying to help and maybe the braille notices said something else. However, I couldn’t contain myself. “Look it’s an emergency notice board, if it doesn’t give directions then I bet all it says is, ‘Bad luck, loser!’ or maybe, ‘Your only hope is to shout loudly for help, but with the bloody noise from the engines he couldn’t be heard anyway.”