On November 6th 2016 (one year and three weeks since this blog began), it was time to bid farewell to Blighty, begin my own form of Brexit and head back to Spain. I’d been delayed due to various reasons but M had flown in from Malaga for a week-long visit to Cornwall in the interim. She and the dog had bonded quickly and discovered a mutual love of pasties.
After a hearty breakfast (thanks Mum), I finished loading the car and set off on the three-day trip to the Mediterranean. The drive from deepest darkest Cornwall to Portsmouth through torrential rain was uneventful, but I’d forgotten that the A303 would be nose to tail with people heading back to London on a Sunday night.
The dog was a little overwhelmed during the loading of the ship after his long sleep in a warm dark car. The vehicle deck was brightly lit and noisy; he was not impressed. I was instructed to leave him in the car, take my luggage up to the cabin and await an announcement before returning to collect him. The boy is a sensitive soul (Battersea Dogs' Home, 2009) so I waited with him for as long as possible. I’m a law-abiding citizen but some rules are made to be broken. No one had given me an indication of how long it would be before I’d be allowed back on the car deck to retrieve him, so I decided I wasn’t going to play that game.
The cleaning crew were racing around and most of the cabins weren’t ready. I slipped past a group of tired, grumpy passengers and found our accommodation had been cleaned. I dumped my stuff and went back for the dog (sans announcement). The plan was going well until we got lost on the way back up through the ship. I was challenged by a young French steward who was trying to be officious (but it wasn’t her style). I pleaded ignorance, the dog charmed her, and she led us to our room.
The ferry from Spain had been delayed reaching Portsmouth due to a ‘technical problem’ and heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay so we departed the UK an hour and a half late, at midnight. Once underway, I took the dog to the ‘exercise area’: a small section of deck one level above us. We were alone. He did a poo and then got as far away as possible while I bagged it. He wasn’t sure if it was allowed and gave me that look. You know: the ‘we just found it, officer’ look.
(That reminds me of when he took a huge dump at a Buckingham Palace vehicle entrance a few years ago, and watched me pick it up as a heavily-armed and unimpressed police officer strode over. It was on the Queen’s property - by a few inches - so I gave the copper an apologetic smile as I dealt with the offending item. It didn’t help that a group of Australian tourists were loudly pissing themselves laughing at the spectacle.)
Anyway, back on the ferry, when we came down from the poop deck I realised that our cabin was adjacent to a half-open seating area at the stern (no dogs allowed). It’s usually home to an outdoor bar but that was closed, so we found a corner under cover and sat talking to a Scottish couple who live near Valencia. They told me where the nearest bar was and looked after the dog while I went to grab a beer. It was at this point, somewhere between southern England and France that my smartphone lit up with the message ‘Welcome to Italy.’
While at the bar, I once again witnessed the strange phenomenon of British people unable to communicate effectively with Johnny Foreigner. All the French barmen speak excellent English but, apparently, some of my countrymen are hardwired not to understand the ‘old enemy’. As my beer was being poured, a Brit walked up to the bar. The French barman spoke clearly with a decent English accent and enquired what the gentleman would like to drink.
Brit: ‘Er, a beer?’
Barman (standing behind four pumps: Heineken, Guinness, John Smiths, Kronenburg 1664): ‘Which kind?’
Barman: ‘Heineken? 1664?’
Brit: ‘Er, yeah.’
The dog cheered up once he’d had loads of attention from strangers out on the deck, but it was cold so we soon retired to our cabin. We both slept well, which was surprising as being in the cabin was like being on a plane during turbulence – but a bit louder.
Next morning, we met some other dogs on the now disinfected dog deck. We had to wait for one dog to pee to set off a chain reaction. It took a while. I needed a coffee after that as it was bloody freezing. Once I’d put the boy back in the cabin and on his security blanket, I ran down two decks to buy a take-away Americano from a jolly Frenchman. When I got back a few minutes later, the dog was still on his blanket but barking his head off so we went out to the prohibited area on our deck as we pulled into the French port of Roscoff for a crew change.
Within minutes the dog was lying on his back being fussed over by a British truck driver who regaled me with stories. Soon after, our new Scottish friends arrived for their morning caffeine and nicotine fix and distracted the boy some more. He’s such a flirt.
I had thought that there would be WiFi access in the cabin, so I was looking forward to doing some work and watching more episodes of The Man in the High Castle via Amazon. This, however, was not to be as the WiFi was only available in a few public areas at the rear of the ship (where dogs aren’t allowed). I guess this stops it messing with the navigation technology up at the front (and encourages people to sit in the bars). Anyway, I had a book to read and managed to do a bit of writing so it wasn’t too bad. First World problems, eh?
After two nights in the strange world of the ferry, we arrived in Bilbao, Spain, at 0745. It was a cold grey morning and we found ourselves at the back of a large queue of vehicles waiting to pass through immigration and out of the port. I lowered my window to breathe in the damp air. A police officer called out and walked with purpose to the car, pistol swinging at his hip, full of the swagger of authority that is freezing its ass off on a cold grey morning in Bilbao. He asked for our passports.
This keeper of the border didn't bother opening our documentation, but instead directed us out of the queue, up a one-way lane (the wrong way) and out of a back gate. This was clearly a good omen. The dog went back to sleep and we began our journey from the north coast to the south coast of Spain.
Ciao for now.