Sixty nine years ago today, on that one day alone, around five thousand Allied troops lost their lives crossing the English Channel to establish a foothold in Nazi occupied France. Today it was an absolute doddle for me. Folkestone to Calais with my car on the train through the Channel Tunnel in precisely thirty five minutes and in another three days I’d have swept through Belgium and into the Netherlands. The way the world has changed since peace came to Western Europe was at the forefront of my mind during most of my journey.
It’s incredible how these days you can pass so swiftly across invisible borders which almost separate these countries of a united Europe. A lot of people in Britain seem to think that it would be a good idea for us to withdraw from the European Union largely because they don’t agree with the economic arrangements, because they think we should retain our British sovereignty and because they object to the bureaucracy imposed upon us by the European Parliament in Brussels. My way of looking at it is that, as long as we can’t find the borders that divide us we can’t accuse each other of invading territory.
A flippant view, I suppose, but I’m pretty sure that our economic union forces us into cooperating with other European nations and as long as that cooperation is there then the likelihood of more war is significantly reduced. I have seen for myself that in France and Belgium the horrors of two world wars are still very much apparent. Their rural landscapes are beautifully tranquil but remain a constant reminder of desperately dark days, the likes of which we must never return to. So I’m quite sure I could get used to drinking half litres instead of pints of beer and not smacking children if it meant no one ever having to go through a repeat of the likes of the Battle of the Somme or the D Day landings in Normandy. I just wish that more British people could see what a precious thing a united Europe is.
The journey to France really was a doddle. With motorways and tunnels all the way it was always unlikely that anything could go wrong. Even my map showing directions into Arras where I was staying for a couple of nights was straightforward so I could drive straight through the town and park directly outside my L&PD (that’s French for B&B you know) in Rue de Douai.
Bienvenue sur France.
The only slight hiccups on my journey were the exorbitant price of a cup of coffee served up by a surly spotty woman of Kent at the Euro Tunnel Terminal near Folkestone, my last minute panic buying when I discovered that it was illegal to drive in France without having a high visibility vesty jackety thing in the car and my little bit of uncertainty about the procedure for paying tolls on the motorway between Calais and Arras and the resultant deadly wedging in my head of that awful Convoy tune from the 1970s that contained the lyrics:
I says, ‘Pigpen this here's the Rubber Duck,
We just ain’t gonna pay no toll.’
So we crashed the gate doin' ninety-eight
I says, ‘Let them truckers roll, ten-four.’
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bloody irritating if the words gnawing at my brain had been:
J’ai dit, ‘Laissez ces camionneurs à rouler, dix quatre.’
Toll roads ... pah! But it was very jolly nice to be on my travels again.