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Hell and Horseboxes
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That's when the penny slotted between the rugby posts – Scotland were playing France at the Parc des Princes on Saturday. This must have been the advance guard of fanatical supporters – sent on ahead to secure the bars.

And then we were alone again, not a kilt or a trouser in sight. Just acre after acre of cars and lorries.

It was desolate. There's something eerie about being alone in a giant car park – so many signs of life having once existed but nothing to prove it still did. Like the aftermath of some terrible disaster, only luggage and children's toys left to be seen. Like the Marie Celeste.

I shuddered. Best think of something else. Something to take my mind off the emptiness.

I looked in the mirror again. It was looking brighter outside. Turning into one of those bright showery days with strong winds and intermittent downpours. I could even see the famous white cliffs of Dover, with a decent pair of binoculars I'd have probably been able to see Vera Lynn herself.

Why could I see the white cliffs of Dover?

I was in the car deck, looking through a side mirror. I shouldn't be able to see out. Should I?

Oh. My. God. The bow doors must be open!

My mind was awash with ferry disasters – all neatly numbered and arranged in order of death toll. And was that really the white cliffs of Dover or an incoming iceberg?

I pulled down the window and craned my head outside. A coach full of discarded trousers was all that stood between me and the English Channel.

What should I do?

And where was Shelagh? It must have been ten minutes since she set off for the bathroom.

Unless she couldn't get back. The entire crew and upper decks held hostage by terrorists.

It was going to be Die Hard all over again. One lone man against a boat load of crazed gunmen, his only advantage the fact that they didn't know he was on board. That and his trusty puppy. And, of course, his training, his years in the computer industry. Give him a week and he'd have a ferry booking system designed, coded and up and running.

He was also having trouble with reality.

It was being left alone – it gave the brain too much space to play in. Imagine anyone failing to close the bow doors after all the publicity there'd been since the last disaster.

I could.

But the terrorists had begun to fade – so some progress was being made.

There was only one thing for it. I had to get out and check the bow doors. Just to be on the safe side.

I walked past the coach and looked out.

They weren't there.

Largely because I was looking aft. Thank God, I said to myself as I looked down at the bobbing sea, a considerable distance below me. It would take a tidal wave to swamp this deck.

I scanned the horizon for tidal waves. It could happen. An unexpected earthquake in the vicinity of Dover, the cliffs fall into the sea, a huge body of water displaced and ... tsunami. We'd have bodies everywhere, cars, lorries and floating trousers...

I walked back to the horsebox. Too much space again.

Better to think things through logically. I was alone in the car deck when I should have been having breakfast. Therefore it was Shelagh's fault. This was a much more promising line of thought – righteous indignation. I had been deprived of food – I looked at my watch – for twenty minutes. Was not the European Court of Human Rights created for just such an occurrence?

Gypsy gave me a lick. She understood all about food deprivation.

By the time Shelagh returned, I was on my closing speech to the Convention at The Hague. They would show her no mercy.

Especially when they found out she'd stopped to have breakfast.

"You didn't want breakfast!"

"I know ... but Sue persuaded me. And it was free."


I met Sue just as she was coming out of the dining room. I was torn between the merits of extra sausages or fried bread when she stopped me.

"Oh, Chris, Shelagh forgot to pay me for her breakfast. It was £1.95."

I searched out the last of our English money and handed it over. There would be no breakfast for me that day. I turned and walked as far away from the smell of fried food as I could. Ending up at the bow, the bit with the doors.

I think they were closed.

(next chapter - France: More Hell, Different Horsebox)