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Published: September 9th 2009
This is actually Dover, but I wanted to push the other pictures down a bit.
So, where was I? Oh, yes, lovely, shitty...
I got off the ferry and started looking for a place to exchange my money. Now, I had all of thirty pounds, which isn't bad, but doesn't help when you're in fucking France. After a long, fruitless search, I gave up and walked into town. Once there, I resumed my search and finally found a bank. Which was closed. And so I walked around a bit more. Now, keep in mind that I essentially hadn't slept more than the two hours on the ferry since I left London two days earlier. This might be relevant later. Or right now.
I bumped into some Brits and somehow managed to get them to buy my euros. I think they thought I was a complete idiot. I headed for the next bar, where I managed to impress a local with my uncanny ability to read. He noticed my book, smiled, and gave me a thumbs-up. I wish he'd bought me a beer instead. As night approached, the partying got louder and I couldn't afford more beer, so I left the safety of the bar and headed into rhe rowdy French night. At
The small vessel harbor thing. As you can see, on low tide it drains almost completely.
this point the lack of sleep was catching up with me, my feet were blistered and I was freezing. In addition I had developed a rather nasty cough, through a careful balance of smoking way too much and staying outside in the Swanleyan fog and Folkestone rain. I decided to find a hospital; if nothing else, they might let me sleep in a waiting room if I was pathetic enough. So, I asked a policeman where to find the nearest hospital.
As this was a French cop, he merely shrugged and said Je ne parlez pas Anglais
or that, only spelled correctly. Even after I tried every single mutation of 'hospital', 'doctor', 'sick' and 'why won't you help me, you sorry excuse for a human being'
he just shrugged and turned away.
Now, I know it's hypocritical of me to expect him to speak English when I can't be bothered to learn French. However, a) he is a fucking cop in a town that is always half full of fucking English people, and b) 'hospital' and 'doctor' are almost the fucking same in French: 'hôpital' and 'docteur' so come the fuck on.
At this point I had resigned
Bonjour Monsieur Cousteau!
myself to a slow death in some French alley, but my brain kicked in and reminded me that hotel staff generally speak English, even the French ones. So I found a suitably posh looking hotel, staggered in and asked the clerk to guide me to the nearest hospital. He seemed worried, offered me a seat and a glass of water, at which point I started crying hysterically. So he called an ambulance.
I didn't know that, since I was too busy trying to breathe (remember the cough), and was therefore a bit surprised when two paramedics showed up and asked me something in French. I managed to spit out that I didn't understand French, so they got the hotel clerk to translate. They asked me where it hurt, if I was on any drugs, et.c, and then escorted me to the ambulance and drove to the hôpital.
Once there, I was asked to fill out all sorts of forms, handed them my passport and all-important Medical Card, a little plastic thing that prevents excessive billing when one needs to use medical services in another European country. After that they finally led me to a bed, where they checked my blood,
My lovely, fluffy hospital bed. Notice giant bowlof weak tea in the foreground.
pulse, breathing and toes, connected a bag of what I assume was some sort of nourishment and then left me to sleep.
The next morning I woke up feeling a lot better, though still coughing and still blistered. A nurse brought me breakfast - or what I assume was breakfast. It consisted of a bit of very hard bread, some jam and a bowl of incredibly weak tea. A twelve year old girl entered the room as I was trying to soften the bread in the tea, and tried to pass herself off as a doctor. She communicated mainly through a book presumably entitled something along the lines of 'How to communicate with silly people who may or may not be injured or sick - in English!
After deciding that I was pretty much fine, she wrote a scrip for painkillers and told me to "eat the tea and no fumer"
. I thanked her and lit a cigarette as soon as I was out of the hospital. I found my way back to the center and discovered that French post offices are closed on Saturdays. I also discovered that the only Western Union in Calais was located at the
"I come Iceland. Call say Hi Tina! Is you friend Mohammad France!"
post office. At this point I screamed quite loudly and cursed France and all its demonic inhabitants.
After I finished screaming (and the subsequent coughing) I found an internet place, and contacted my mother. After a few messages we decided that she'd send the money to Brussels and I'd try to get there as soon as possible.
I walked out of Calais to find a decent hitching spot. After trying in vain near the ferryport, I walked further along and finally found a good place: it was near an on-ramp, there was a place to sit, and it was out of the wind. I drank the beer I'd spent my last money on, smoked and read until I noticed a group of young men approaching. Each of them carried a large black sack, and I'd seen many more that day, including a very large group standing outside a warehouse. I assume it was a charity of some kind. One of the young men broke off from the group and struck up a conversation in broken English, mostly to bum a smoke, I think.
It turned out that his name was Mohammad and he was from Afghanistan. He was an
A canal? It's somewhere near the French-Belgian border. On the French side. So...Un canal francais?
illegal immigrant, living in a hut with about twenty others in the same situation, with no way of getting a job - or a passport so he could leave France. He'd left Afghanistan, he said, since most of his family was dead. He didn't know which was worse; the Taliban or the Americans. He wanted to go somewhere where he could have a future, but now he was stuck here, standing in line for food, for clothes, for illegal work. We shared another cigarette and then he pulled out some weed and offered me. I politely accepted, and we climbed through a fence to a spot he said would be nice. I figured I could take him if he tried anything, so I went along. He spread his jacket on the ground for me to sit on and rolled a joint. As we passed it back and forth he told me more about his life in Afghanistan. It wasn't a pretty story. I told him about my life, and he said he'd like to move to Denmark. I tried to explain that Iceland was a different country, and after some vague hand gestures he understood me. "Maybe I go Iceland!
That sign says Belgium. In Belgian. Creepy.
I call you, say 'Hi, is you friend Mohammad! Hi Tina!' Haha!"
After the joint was finished we climbed back up to the road. I took a picture of us, we swapped numbers and he told me that he'd see me in Iceland. "I take train Iceland! Call you, say 'Hi Tina! Haha!'"
He also told me that he'd come back with a blanket for me if I hadn't gotten a ride by ten. As he walked away he kept turning around to wave. I waved back and then returned to my reading. When I saw cars approach, I'd get up and try to thumb a ride, and eventually I got lucky.
One of the natives picked me up and took me all the way to...
where my luck stopped for a bit. I couldn't catch a lift, it was getting dark, and I was getting hungry again. Ah, but I suddenly remembered that I had a chocolate bar in my bag - in fact I had five! Damn and blast, but I forgot to tell that part.
In Dover, whilst I was waiting for the ferry to leave, a strange man approached me in the
That place had shittiest beer garden I've ever seen. But there's a monkey, so it's ok. This picture has nothing todo with crisps, aside from the obvious.
street. This is not unusual in and of itself, but he offered my candy. "A chocolate bar"
to be precise. All I had to do was follow him down an alley. So I did. I mean, the man had a clipboard, what wa he going to do: take my details in a threatening manner? We went into a house, some sort of church hall I think, with several pairs of people scattered around the room. The strange man offered me a seat and produced a paper plate full of crisps (that's chips to an American) out of thin air. "I'll just need you to taste this and answer a few questions, ok?"
I nodded and reached for a crisp. They were greasy, but otherwise alright. He interrogated me about the flavour, saltiness, crispiness, crunchiness and assorted other nesses, carefully ticking the appropriate box for my answers. He then removed the plate and produced another, identical one. "Alright, I'll just need you to try these for me now."
Which I duly did. These were clearly baked, and I said as much. The candy-giver merely smiled gently and asked me some questions regarding the crunchy baked spud shavings. After a lot of
Kent - Brussels
Thats a blister. In the worst spot ever. I couldn't really bandage it, since my pinky toe is too pointy. You didn't notice that till I pointed it out and now you're all "Whoa, what a pointy toe!"
thoughtful munching, answering questions on thickness and size and chewability, and a lot of ticking boxes on a form, he thanked me. "Oh,"
he said "and here is your chocolate"
and handed me five Cadbury's Dairy Milk bars. Awesome!
So, now you know where I got the mysterious chocolate. Anyway, I was in Dunkerque and couldn't find a decent hitching spot. I decided to just walk along the highway a bit, until I found the next on-ramp. So I walked. I got to a bridge just as it started raining. I noticed a ledge under the brigde and remembered someone telling me that those were fairly decent slepping places. I saw another bridge in the distance, walked there, but by then the rain had stopped and I figured I should use the chance and get to the next bridge. Maybe there's be a good spot there. So I walked there. No good spot. So I walked on. By the next bridge I noticed a chenge. This one was different. There was no ledge, just a sheet of metal and some gravel. I couldn't sleep there, so I walked on. After a while it started to rain, for real this
These are two Belgian goats I saw in De Panne. That's it.
time, so I sat down under the next bridge. But that got boring fast, since there wasn't enough light to read. So I got up and walked some more.
The strange thing about walking is that after you've been doing it for a few hours it becomes uncomfortable to not walk. A rest becomes unbearable after a few minutes. I rested a few times, but usually only long enough to massage my feet, put my sandals back on, and stretch. Occasionally I'd nibble on the chocolate as I walked. Now, along this particular highway there are emergency phones every 1600 meters or so (that's a mile, for those not sophisticated enough to adopt a system based on a simple rule a fucking kindergartener can remember), and around these there's a small concrete base. I'd sit down there, since the other choices were sitting on the gravel shoulder or on the highway itself. I suppose I could have grabbed roadkill to use as a cushion, but somehow the thought never occurred to me. There was a lot of roadkill, though.
I nodded off during a few of my rests, but never for long. I basically walked through the night. In the
Hah. Seriously, though, I saw at least four identical crossesin the same cemetary. How about a little creativity here? Giant Rubik's cube? An 8 ball? Blinking LED display? No...ok, keep the damn cross then. Don't think outside the box. Fine.
morning, when it got light enough, I played the roadkill guessing game. By the time I finally made it to civilization I had seen a lot of roadkill - I had just under forty points, one for each one I recognized, but I only got points if I could point to evidence to support my theory. So, a squirrel's bushy tail was an easy point, telling a young rat from a large mouse is a bit tougher, and some were so flattened that they were unrecognizable.
On to less creepy things. I used the first opportunity to get off the highway and onto a dirt road next to it, but the road started veering away from the highway after a while, and I was about to scream and turn back when I saw the most wonderful sight: a town! With people in it. Human people! I would have run there if I'd had the energy. I didn't, so I hobbled there instead. I crossed a final bridge and found myself in a little Belgian village called...
Once there my first mission was to find a bench. I did, took off my sandals and massaged my feet.
Some signs. I think 'Kattebroek' is funny, because whe you say it out loud, it sounds like 'cat pants' in Icelandic.
There was a fountain next to the bench and it clearly hadn't been turned on for some time as it was full of leaves. I washed my feet anyway. After my feet had recovered sufficiently, I hobbled further into town and tried to find cigarettes. You see, I'd run out of smokes a couple of hours earlier, so I'd started picking up half-smoked butts from the side of the road. I had a few in my pocket and was careful to pick up every pack I saw and check if some idiot had accidentally thrown out a not-quite-empty one. I kicked at a pack of Marlboros and heard a rattle - there were three whole cigarettes in there. Once again, idiots make the world a better place.
The Belgians weren't too forthcoming with the ciggies, so I went back to picking up butts. Addicted? Me? Nonsense. I found that the bus stop was an excellent place to find half-smoked or even just lit cigarettes. The reason is obvious, and I am very grateful to all the busdrivers who arrived a little bit earlier than expected, and all the people too lazy or hurried to put their cigarette out and save
Note the uncanny similarity between this pink planty-type thing and aging B-list actresses. It's so had wok done.
the rest for later. After a while I decided to try begging. I went into the shops and found out the price of the cheapest cigarettes. I counted my change and discovered that I only needed one euro and ten cents to be able to afford a pack of twenty of the fuckers. So, I scribbled a note: "NEED 1 EURO 10 CENTS. PLEASE HELP"
I got a few dirty looks, a few murmurs and a lot og curious glances, but after about ten minutes of sitting outside a supermarket looking forlorn, a woman walked past and quickly handed me two euros. I jumped up and thanked her profusely before running to the petrol station to buy a pack of the worst cigarettes I've ever smoked.
Now, the bridge I'd crossed to get into town had a very nice off-ramp leading back to the highway. After only an hour or so standing at the end of the windy bridge, I got a ride. The nice Belgian girl in the VW Polo dropped me off by a service station, where I was picked up a mere fifteen minutes later by another, similar, creature, though this one drove a rather bigger car. We chatted about politics during the ride, so she'd say things like "I'm sorry my English isn't very good, but as I was saying, discretionary policy can be subject to dynamic inconsistency."
and I'd nod and try to look like I didn't need an encyclopaedia and a professional EU lackey to explain what the hell she was talking about. She dropped me off at another service station right on the edge of
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