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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.

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24 comments to Calais

  • Calais is so bad. We stayed on a campsite there for the night once. It according to our 1988 good Hotel/camping guide was a 3 star site. Hmmm. It was a overgrown and full of dodgy looking folk. Next door to us got their £1000 bikes nicked off their roof in the night. I’m glad we left.

  • Verity

    Philip – A very enjoyable post. Doubtless French taxi unions do not permit the government to licence minicab drivers. France is strangling itself to death, which is another reason we should get out of the death coils of the EU. Soon there will be no money-making capability at all, other than by the giant state-owned industries. Sound familiar?

    On behalf of everyone living in a free country, thank you for photographing those “Asians” with an interest in photographing pedestrian things (sic) like stairwells and passing them on the constabulary. You did the absolutely right thing and your action could save lives.

  • Robert Alderson

    Talking about French taxi unions etc. I had heard recently about the bureaucracy surrounding car boot sales in France. They are, of course, run by the government. If you want to sell goods there you must go and present your ID papers at the town hall a few days before and pay a fee. You are not allowed to sell at more than three car boot sales in a year. The official area for the car boot sale will be nearly deserted but around the edges there will be a large number of people doing very dodgy deals who are ignored by the authorities who are more concerned with checking the details of those inside the official area.

  • Verity

    France and “free” enterprise is well state controlled organised.

  • Oh frabjuous day! Caloo Calais!

  • Tim

    Calais is no great place for tourists. Boulogne is better with the old town and Le Touquet is a nice seaside place. Inland, St Omer is quite a nice old town.

  • Johnathan

    Cherbourg is quite nice if you get away from the grubbier bits near the port. I sailed there two years ago and had a good time. The harbour officials seemed to be strict without being annoying about it.

    Calais is a bit of a dump but then frankly, I don’t think many working port towns are very pleasant. Portsmouth is awful, even when the Navy is not in; Felixtowe is not exactly the centre of the universe, and then consider such charm spots like Hull, Tilbury and much of Marseille.

  • 1327

    I am told Spain is the same with licences for taxi drivers.
    There are never enough in tourist areas so the few there are can charge a fortune. In some areas British ex-pats have tried to obtain he necessary permits from the local council but have never managed it. Rumour has it they are reserved for the idiot sons of the towns well connected. Sadly any attempt to operate a service without a permit is one of the few offences that will tempt the local Police from their station.

  • Yes, I have done the same thing as you have: got the ferry across the channel on the thought that I would go to France for a few hours, find a nice restaurant or bar or something, and then come back. It really isn’t a good town for this at all. You would kind of think that it would be possible (and probably profitable) to turn the town into a pleasant destination for English day trippers who just want a little bit of France, but there is no sign of this.

    My most irritating experience on this day-trip to Calais occurred back in England, however. I came back on the ferry that arrived just in time to get the last train back to London. There is a free shuttle bus that goes from the ferry terminal to the railway station, so this should have been no problem. However, I was the only foot passenger on board with a non-EU passport, and I had to stand at the immigration counter being asked stupid questions for several minutes while people with EU passports just walked through. The EU nationals walked out of the terminal and got on the shuttle bus, the driver assumed that everyone who was coming had arrived, and I just saw the back of the shuttle bus departing down the road as I walked out of the terminal. As a consequence I missed the train and had to spend the night in Dover. Talk about truly profoundly irritating.

  • Ken

    Would you have acted the same way had it been men of any other description taking recordings of the stairwells?

  • Would you have acted the same way had it been men of any other description taking recordings of the stairwells?

    Yes, would you have been similarly concerned had it been elderly C of E clergymen (who are notorious for their tendency to blow themselves up amidst public transport) taking pictures of stairwells?

  • Would you have acted the same way had it been men of any other description taking recordings of the stairwells?

    Probably not.

  • Verity

    Thank god there are some alert citizens in Britain.

    This whole thing about Calais and other Channel ports on the French just demonstrates how incredibly unenterprising the French are. As President Bush didn’t say, but I wish he had, “the french don’t have a word for entrepreneur”. They’re lazy, unambitious – except for longer holidays and earlier and larger pensions – and passive. If they fixed up Calais, Boulogne, etc with neat little cafés and boutiques, people would come over with the express intention of spending money in a French atmosphere.

  • Sandy P

    quit calling them “asian” it muddies the waters, unless they were chicoms or japanese or from that part of the world?

  • Verity

    Sandy p – This is the politically correct way of referring to Pakistanis in Britain. The term Paki or Pakistani is seen as so derogatory it cannot be used, so the media (probably the Beeb and al-Ghardeyahn) chose “Asians” to use instead because they’re not much up on geography.

  • Sandy P

    I know, Verity. I remember reading an article a couple of years ago about “Asians” rioting and thought “asians” don’t riot.

    Found out what they were later.

    But do we have to be so PC?

    How’s Mexico?

    Read something interesting at Bros. Judd about Mexico’s population in about 20 years. Might solve the immigration problem.

  • Ken

    My point being, that radical Islam has nothing to do with race, it has to do with religion which, whether we like it or not, is a matter of individual choice. Undoubtedly the right thing was done in this case. But I am slightly concerned Asian was considered worthy of note.

  • Verity

    Hey, Sandy!

    But do we have to be so PC?”

    “We” don’t. The islamofacists have discovered the powerful and destructive wonders of PC.

    I’ve got a feeling it’s cracking, and I hope I’m right. Certainly, if you read the correspondence on Mark Steyn’s site, it is about to be assaulted.

    Mexico population – don’t know. They seem to be going in for much smaller families these days and I’ve seen bumper stickers saying ‘Say No to Abortion’. And the smartly uniformed schooldchildren look as though they are products of two- or three-child homes. I’m not there 100% of the time yet so am not totally interwoven into the thinking, but it is a dynamic country and an asset to N America and NAFTA. It’s already the world’s 15th largest economy.

    I will go to Judd Bros and take a look though, and thank you!

  • Lascaille

    Americans say Asians to mean Orientals, because American Orientals get annoyed about being on the far end of that term (dunno why.)

    Here we say Oriental or Asian and everyone knows that Asian means Indian/Pakistani/etc and Oriental means Japanese/Chinese/Korean etc.

    I went to Calais about ten years ago and it was okay, we found a place to eat without too much trouble and it was reasonably quiet, etc… Don’t go expecting it to be ‘french culture’ personified – it’s a goods and cargo port, after all, and that business is the same pretty much everywhere, drab, dreary and not much fun. There will be unemployed ‘navvies’ hanging about in any town like that – you see them in Dover too, a lot of them do (or these days, probably used to do) warehouse-type work on the quiet.

    There used to be a number of stores catering for (and judging by the flags and names, run by) the English – mostly cigs&lager warehouse style outlets that’d sell you beer by the case and cigs by the thousand, as well as some slightly nicer wine and cheese places.

    I agree that it does not cater for the foot passenger but I think that is mostly to do with there not being very many of them – most visitors who are terminating at Calais are there to buy booze and have a car or a van, and other business travellers are either being picked up or have a car.

    Above someone recommended Le Touquet, which I very much agree with. You can fly from Shoreham for about £40 return in a little cessna-type thing, get a taxi into town from the municipal airport (the airport people can get you one real quick,) have lunch, enjoy the town and get back for the evening. That’s the way to do it on foot!

  • Ken: “My point being, that radical Islam has nothing to do with race” How many caucasian radical muslims have you ever heard about?

  • Ken

    I haven’t heard of any suicide bombers being caucasian. But I have heard of caucasian converts to Islam. I’ve read reports of red-bearded Muslims outside radical mosques making inflammatory statements. And even if I haven’t heard of them, vigilance requires that if anyone is doing something suspicious, then we should watch what they are doing. Does videoing stairwells and such like become bad or dangerous or unusual only if one is Asian?

  • Verity

    Does videoing stairwells and such like become bad or dangerous or unusual only if one is Asian?

    It certainly becomes one hell of a lot more suspicious, given their record.

    I see the lovely Heather Blears has said they won’t be doing racial profiling in looking for Pakistani terrorists.

    Three days after the Brazilian man was shot dead for not stopping when ordered to by police, the deeply stupid Jack Straw angrily and self-righteously announced that the guy was a legal immigrant. A few days later, it turns out his visa had long since expired and he was in the country illegally. The Home Secretary cannot get his department to give him an answer to a yes or no question? Or maybe they don’t bother to keep records any more?

    In the history of the human race, has there ever been a government with more people who have been certified medically brain dead in it? It’s government by the Marx Brothers but without the humour. And in the foreground, the heavily made-up Tony Blair swanking about finding his inner David Niven. What a joke.

  • stuart

    Wasnt Richard Ried, cuacasian?

  • Ken

    Does videoing stairwells and such like become bad or dangerous or unusual only if one is Asian?

    It certainly becomes one hell of a lot more suspicious, given their record.

    And there you have a racist attitude, even if understandable. I notice how you haven’t actually answered the question – whether it is only dangerous or not depending on the race of a person.