Yesterday, I travelled as a foot passenger to Calais on the ferry from Dover, as part of a group celebrating the birthday of a long-standing friend. It was ironic to read the Times on embarkation controls and experience the poorly organised efforts of the Immigration Service. After checking in, all foot passengers are taken on a courtesy bus towards the ferry. However, as the embarkation infrastructure was dismantled in 1998 to save money, they have established an ad hoc arrangement. You have to exit the courtesy bus twice, once to show your passport, the other time: to check your luggage. Such practices were not in evidence on the return journey from France.
We noticed that there were two or three Asian men holding camcorders and filming stairwells, restaurants and the maps of the ferry. This may be innocent behaviour but we took photos of them. The photos have been passed on to the Kent constabulary. This could be something or nothing, but vigilance is the purview of the alert citizen, not a monopoly of our less than competent authorities.
Calais, itself, is a nondescript town whose tourist potential is undermined by the large numbers of illegal immigrants who loiter around the parks and telephone boxes. Most appeared to be from the Middle East of the Horn of Africa. For a Saturday afternoon, they did little apart from sit or chat, cultivating indifference to the French or the holidaymakers. When attempting to look at a map of the town of Calais, that a group of them were obscuring, they quickly got out of the way. Perhaps this indicated past encounters with the French police and a fear of transgressing unspoken rules. Whatever the set-up, they have no place to go apart from the public spaces.
The local beer is worth imbibing and we found a well-stocked Irish pub near the main square that deserves patronage. Nearby is the local war museum, housed in a bunker, with jumbled momentoes of the occupation. Calais suffered heavy damage during the Second World War and testament is apid to this suffering with the photos of local landmarks, just situated outside the bunker, surrounded by piles of rubble and destroyed buildings. A vivid and revealing contrast of sixty years of peace.
To conclude, Calais does not cater for the tourist. We had to walk out of the ferry terminal and into town. Unlike any previous country I have visited, there was no sign for taxis or taxi ranks to pick up arrivals. One existed at the local station in the town although we had to wait for some time before a people carrier appeared. One could muse at the unmet demand for transport from strangers which the locals did not appear to consider a profitable enterprise. You could not help commenting that, in Britain, some of those sitting in the parks would obtain work by driving minicabs, and relieving the taxi drought.