Computer breakdown and the race to Calais.

If you’ve read from the start you’ll know that right back in Autumn 2013 when I was readying the van for Europe and I had 2 tyres stolen that from that point there were non-stop problems that had to be overcome. It cost me over £3000 in the end for everything that needed to be done and to sort stuff out.

Since coming to Italy the brakes failed in the Alps, Jack got stuck down a pipe, I had my wallet stolen with my bank card and driving licence, and now…my computer has broken, so I can’t work.
I said if anything else went wrong I’d return to the UK as too much was happening and I was not only fed up with problems but was worried if something serious happened. However with a broken computer I’ve really got no choice because I’m due in work in about 10 hours and as I don’t speak Italian there’s only so much a local computer repair place can do. (Also the awful problems I’m having at work have come to a head. 🙁 )As mine’s under warranty anyway I decided to return to the UK immediately.

There were some slightly scary bits coming back as the brakes were awful but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I paid the toll to the Brenner pass which was only €24 for the 301 km trip, then the €8.60 toll through the Brenner pass. After that I turned off TomTom and made my own way on toll free roads so instead of the €110 I spent on the way in it was only €32.60.
I need a vet to sort Jack out before I can return so I diverted once in Germany to find one that I’d found on my phone but it was shut. I checked another two in Luxembourg but one was a private vet with no access to drugs and the other was closed and I tried a final one in Belgium that was also closed.
I’d been to one in Arques before near Calais, but they would not be open til Monday morning. I probably spent a small fortune ringing a friend to help me out as I’m no longer on Three network’s “Feel at home” package since leaving Italy. However my friend Ellie came up trumps and found me a vet in Ardres, about a half hour from the ferry terminal. I telephoned him and he (Maurice) said he’d be there at 9 am. Phew!
What’s this going to cost me calling a vet out at 9 am on a Sunday morning!

Image of a vet's premises
Ardres vet

I got to Ardres late Saturday night after leaving Venice about 10:30pm Friday night, and calling in at Germany Luxembourg and Belgium on the way! There was a group of kids in the town centre, typical pre-teens and teens bored on a weekend and looking for something to do. So they were all happy to try and help out. A few knew the odd English word and a few understood my bad French and eventually we worked out that there was no vet in Ardres, yes I was from England and yes I knew the Queen and no I had never met Sting! Hmmm. Did I believe them? Not!
So I set off driving around town and it only took about 10 minutes to find the vets. I was elated as it was directly across the road from a free car park. Result! I parked up and got some much needed sleep.

The next morning I awoke in a panic. I checked the clock and it was 40 minutes past 9! I quickly rang Maurice and he said yes he was there waiting for me. I grabbed Jack and his passport and we ran across the car park to the vet’s but…it was all locked up and spiders webs all over the door that clearly had not been used for some time.
I banged on the door and rang the bell but no answer. An old lady was trying to tell me in French that it was closed and I tried to tell her in French that I had just this second spoken to Maurice and he was supposed to be there.
I rang Maurice back. “Yes he said, I’m in!” I said “Ou etes vous?” Le vets est ferme!” He then gave the phone to someone else who eventually managed to say “Stay there he will come for you.”
I stayed there and literally 3 minutes later here was Maurice. They had moved premises over a year and  a half ago hahah so much for the internet! And so much for not trusting the kids either!

Image of a business park with a veterinary surgery on it
New vet

And what a swanky place it was! Absolutely pristine and clearly purpose built. Maurice was very relaxed and took my word for Jack’s weight, gave me the tablets to give to him and then totted it up on the computer. I gulped as I got my debit card out and he said…”€64.76 please.”
I get him out of bed on a Sunday morning, make him wait 3/4 of an hour, then he has to come and find me, and that’s all he charges me? I was astonished to say the least and more than happy to hand it over. At least one thing has gone right for me! Now I can ring the ferry people and see what they say.


I rang DFDS and explained my situation and they were very understanding however as I was booked to leave in about 6 weeks time and I wanted to reschedule for that same day, I would need to leave from Dunkirk and there was a massive surcharge of £74. I expected a surcharge but not that much, but hey, I need to sail that day so what the heck, I paid it without argument and was booked for 12 that day. I just had time to fill up with cheap diesel and get to the port.
I did that and when I arrived at Dunkirk I was ‘told off’ for not checking in at least 1 hour before sailing. I simply apologised and said nothing else and as I looked at him stamping stuff and tapping his computer I knew somehow he was not going to let me on the ferry. It was that feeling I got when Jack fell off the harbour wall and into the sea at San Giuliarno. I knew it was going to happen. Sure enough he turned to me after a few moments and said “You cannot sail today. 24 hours must pass from the time your dog sees the vet to the time you sail.


He was of course dead right. I’d totally forgotten but that’s the law and I knew it. So I asked in a meek tone “What shall I do?” He advised going into DFDS’s office and seeing what they could do then looked away. He had nothing more for me.

I found their offices and spoke to a lovely French girl who was very efficient and officious and said this was the law I must know that. I said yes but I had forgotten, was it possible to change my ticket yet again?
After some though and tapping at her computer, then chatting to her supervisor she returned and said “I would love to come to England with you and stay in your van with you for a few weeks.” However it got lost in translation and I think she meant they could change my ticket and this time it would be free of charge. I Nodded and she got on with it and once I had the new ticket in my hand I said “Wait…I paid £74 as I was sailing the same day. I ought to have remembered the law, but so ought your ticket agent have known it and not sold me the ticket. I should get a portion of that sum refunded?”
She thought about this and finally agreed and suggested I telephone customer services.

Back at the van I telephoned customer services. I got a lovely lady who understood everything easily and finally suggested I write in to head office so they could sort it out. She went off to find the address but I knew if I had to write in I would get nowhere. So I asked her in my nicest voice if she could find a supervisor to speak to but unfortunately he was on the phone. I suggested she pass my number on to him so he could call me when he was finished and she took it and said he would call back but I wasn’t sure he would. They never do.
Anyway, less than 10 minutes later he called back. I explained everything all over again, and he said at the end I will simply refund your entire £74 that you paid this morning!
I said “No I am more than happy to pay a re-scheduling fee, take £10 or £10 or whatever it is.” but he was certain, “I understand the problems and my staff should not have sold you that ticket therefore I will refund the whole amount to your card.”
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

DFDS have been my preferred ferry company since they took over Norfolk line and now I will not hear a word against them.

So, I drove into Loon Plage which was pretty but empty. I drove around the countryside which was pretty but had nowhere to stop. Drove back to the ferry car park and took Jack for a walk along the waste land. I had about 20 hours to wait.

What the heck, what an adventure.

It’s time to go …


Well there I was in Arques, minding my own business when I happened to pass a vets. I popped in and asked “Je boisin de prendre de rendezvous pour mon chien pour le vaccine”?

She replied “Aj’hourd’hui?”

I said “Non, Vendredi. Cinq et demi?”

She checked her book and said “Oui monsieur” and that was it. I was booked in for Jack’s vaccinations to return to the UK.

I wandered back through town to the van, choosing the route along the canal which takes about an hour and a half. When I got back I started the laptop and booked ferry tickets for Saturday morning.  I had to do it sometime, I’ve got things to attend to not least taxing the van and getting new insurance. So … there’s me sitting by the dock, watching my boat come in. I have to say I am mightily sad. However ….

Hands up those who believe in fate? I took Jack off up the car park as we had an hour to wait and it’s a large one, so he could have a run around before the crossing. We wandered to the far edge which was partitioned off and around the top where there are some huge dumpsters.

As I was passing one, I heard a faint yowling. The unmistakable cry of a frightened cat. It only took a minute to find the pathetic little creature, stuck in one of the dumpsters and he was clearly cold, frightened and very much trapped.  I jammed a block of wood under the lid of the dumpster and stuck the camera in. This is what I saw. I’m 5′ 7″ so the top of the dumpster is about 6 feet, and the lip, where they’re emptied and there’s a hatch on the front, is easily 4 feet off the ground and weighs a ton. Kitty has no way to get out of that thing. Interestingly, kitty had no way to get in either.

I checked around it cos I’ve been around cats all my life and I know how agile and purposeful they can be. However I decided there was no way that this cat could have got himself into this dumpster. So, who put him there and why? Someone who didn’t know the rules for bringing animals into the UK? I’ve no idea but I decided I was going to get kitty out!

I climbed onto the top of the dumpster to check out his situation and got covered in oil and grease and unspeakable things in the process. There’s a hatch on top so I had a good view of him.

Trapped kitty
Trapped kitty

Now as you can see, if I go in there and try to catch him, quite apart from getting ripped to shreds I am going to struggle to get out. The roof of it is easily my head height, so getting out would be possible, but I’d have to throw my clothes away and would still stink for a week.

So, I found a pallet and broke off 2 lengths, then used a larger block to jam the lid up. This way I could easily slide the two pallet planks down the sloping entrance to the dumpster, and within a second of my going round the back and banging the metal wall of the dumpster with a brick, kitty was up those planks and away like a shot.

So,  I still have to get on the ferry and come back to the UK, but at least my four month stay in France left one person extremely happy.  Bon chance kitty and Hiya UK, see you in an hour or so!