Dave the motorhome’s glad of the company of Buster, a fellow veteran van who’s also just about to successfully complete a lengthy foray around Europe, parked overlooking the lights of the south England coast at an official aire in Tardinghen (N50.85612 E1.65117). We’re parked up under rain-laden cloud, next to Jacqui and Mike, who we first met in the sunshine, dry earth and heat of the tip of the Mani, a rugged and beautiful place in Greece, at a distant southern edge of Europe. Those guys head back to the UK tomorrow morning via the Channel Tunnel, while our Aussie friends will be on the boat as I type, and we’ll be bringing up the rear on Wednesday, the day after tomorrow. We were last here in this same spot a year ago, peering across the water in nervous anticipation of seeing our homeland again, but that time we’d the knowledge we’d be heading back out onto the road again within days.
This morning we said goodbye to Paul and Rose. It hurt. We’ve only known them in the flesh a few days, and we found them the easiest of people to get along with. Fascinating, full to the brim with life, gregarious and generous, they’ll serve as an inspiration to us in the coming weeks and months. As we hugged the tears welled up. It took a fair few miles of British-looking French countryside before either of us could speak properly. There are very limited downsides to a carefree life wandering in an motorhome, and the grief-like sensation of saying goodbye to new and old friends is one of them. One thing we’ll take with us from those guys is their unique vernacular. I’ll give you a few examples, which had us chuckling:
- Pork Chop: someone who’s done something mildly daft, often self-deprecating. Example: ‘whadderya do that for, yer pork chop?’
- Feral: an uncouth person, something like a red neck, probably sporting a vest, can of beer and mullet. Example: ‘yeah, those guys up there are pretty feral’
- Bogan: an even more uncouth person than a feral. Example use: ‘jeeze, what a bogan!’
- Ripper: an statement of approval. Example: ‘it’s beer o’clock, ripper!’
- Domers: people living in a motorhome
- Free baggin’: the much-admired act of finding somewhere to park your motorhome for the night to sleep without paying. Example: ‘hey, look at those domers free baggin’ by the harbour, great spot, ripper!’
Paul and Rose are heading back to the UK to sell their motorhome, car, and almost the entire contents of them. As they’re flying back to Oz, there’s not much they can take back. I’ve scored a pair of diving gloves, Ju’s cheekily begged a couple of fabulous drinks glasses and when we tried to buy their Moroccan outside carpet, they gave it us for free. They’ll be back home in weeks. When I say ‘home’, they’ll be hours from their old, sold home in Adelaide as they’re trying out Darwin, in the north of Australia. Getting off the plane they’ll be stepping back into summer, the current forecast is for 35 degrees daytime temperatures, Nottingham’s closer to 16 degrees. One day we’ll get ourselves over there to meet ’em again, but for now my message to those guys: it’s been a ball guys, I’m so proud to have met you and congratulations on a flippin’ awesome three years (ish!) on the road.
We steered Dave across the wheat fields of Flanders and up to Saint Omer, for out vets appointment at 3pm. The UK is part of the EU Pet Passport scheme, which enables us to take Charlie anywhere in the world, as long as we comply with certain conditions, mainly around getting him vaccinated against rabies. We can take him anywhere in the EU, crossing borders without showing his passport. Coming back into the EU we just show his passport and (in theory, it’s never happened), the micro-chip in his neck should be scanned to check he’s the right pooch. Getting back into the UK requires an additional step: we have to visit a vet between 5 days and 24 hours before getting on the ferry for Blighty, to check him over and to give him a worming tablet. We’ve been using the same veterinary surgeons at St Omer for a few years, they speak English, charge a fair rate and are convenient for getting the ferry afterwards from Calais or Boulogne. A motorhome aire’s also about to be finished almost outside the door to the vets, making it an even better proposition.
We got into St Omer early, feeling a bit nervous in case of some weirdness which might stop us getting the poochmeister back home. To kill some time we had a wander about the place, an act we’ve repeated over the years, never managing to find anything particularly appealing about it (sorry St Omer, but you’re a bit depressing, not helped by my rock-bottom mood). As we stared up at the ruined cathedral pictured above, we realised we’d only 10 minutes before out appointment and legged it back across town to the vets, staring at the door buzzer for a moment before the receptionist noticed us and buzzed us in without having touched it.
Up the stairs inside, Ju reminded me the last time we were here the wee fella tried to make a break for it! Inside we waited for a few minutes before the vet invited us in, taking me aback by asking why on Earth I was speaking French. “There are only 100 million French speakers, why are you learning this language?” Erm. That’s not a reaction I’ve ever got from anyone when I’ve tried to speak their tongue, but hey, he’s got a point. Nigh-on everywhere we’ve gotten away with English, plus a fair bit of mime… We had a good chat with him, Mr Dandifloss we call him although his name’s a little different, discussing all things tick collar, tick removal, worming, ear cleansing, heart disease, you name it. Cutting to the chase, Charlie’s in great shape, having actually lost a few hundred grams in the past year of living it up on the Med diet!
Relieved, we hat a quick look at the brand new motorhome aire before heading to Dave and driving 200m to Lidl for a €150 stock up on tinned goodies, wine and the odd beer. Word is from folks travelling out from England that the country’s rather expensive. We’re steeled for a shock to our budget, which unless we can get work quickly won’t survive for long, so have prudently stocked up on alcohol to drown our sorrows!
Next up we got word from Jacqui and Mike they were at Calais and could get over to meet us here, offering to cook up a chilli over a glass of wine. Ripper! We nipped over, berating the TomTom for picking daft narrow country roads and parked up in the lashing rain. Those guys arrived minutes later and we’ve spent the evening reminiscing over our adventures, the people we’ve met, the problems we’ve encountered, the beers we’ve drunk, the daft stuff we’ve done, and the daft stuff we’re going to do. It’s been a fabulous evening, ended bluntly with another hard goodbye, as they’re off early and we’ll be enjoying our last guilt-free lie-in for a long, long time.
We’ve now got tomorrow to take it easy, get some more shopping in and stare out at our looming homeland!