Tag Archives: calais

Another wine about Brexit

We popped over to France and Belgium at the weekend for a little jauntette. It was all plain sailing, except that we went by Eurotunnel so it was more like plain training.

We didn’t need to buy a visa in advance or complete any paperwork, because we’re in the EU and none of that is necessary. There was no need to apply for an International Driving Permit for France and/or Belgium before we could travel, and we didn’t need to contact our insurance company a full 30 days before departure in order to obtain a Motor Insurance Green Card.

We weren’t required to buy and display a big GB sticker on the back of our car.

During the trip, we could use our phones as normal and not worry about data roaming charges, because the EU abolished roaming charges years ago.

We drove from Calais to Ypres at a steady 80mph on smooth, well-maintained roads where, if our car was fitted with one, cruise control would have been handy. Driving in mainland Europe is as close to the driving experience portrayed in car ads as I ever get. And if anything were to go wrong and we were involved in an accident, we wouldn’t be faced with life-changing bills because our European Health Insurance Cards would have entitled us to reduced-cost or even free medical care.

At Ypres, we visited the vast Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world and the last resting place of nearly 12,000 servicemen who died during the Battle of Passchendaele (total casualties there exceeded 475,000). Last year we spent a weekend in Normandy, site of the WW2 beach landings. It’s no leap of the imagination to suggest that the founding of the EU has in no small way helped prevent a repeat of those bloody battles, those unspeakable wars, those millions of deaths.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

We nosed around the town for a bit (it’s lovely, by the way) then headed for the Menin Gate to witness the playing of The Last Post, a ceremony that’s been conducted at 8pm sharp every night since 1927.

With 30 seconds to go, the crowd of several hundred suddenly hushed, then the Last Post began. It was very moving, despite us arriving too late and not being able to see the buglers. Then a man on our left started chatting to his son, which drew a few ‘shh’ noises from people standing nearby, me included. The father’s enormous friend turned to stare down us down. So instead of being wrapped up in the solemnity of the occasion, I found myself wondering how people could be so utterly self-centred to think that it was perfectly all right to chat away during it, and also whether the big guy was going to be a dick and start something. He didn’t. Phew.

This bit’s got nothing to do with the EU, by the way.

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After dinner we whiled away a few hours outside a bar situated directly opposite our little hotel, the Ambrosia. (What’s the WiFi password, we asked. ‘We will remember’ came the reply. Ah, I said. We will remember that. The manager smiled like she hadn’t heard the joke a thousand times before.)

Next morning, we set off back to Calais to conduct our main business, buying coffee, cheese and olive oil.

OK then, wine.


One of the advantages of living in the south of England, apart from not having to live in the north of England (note to self: delete this before hitting publish), is that you can access cheap wine and beer relatively easily.

In fact, outlets like Calais Wine Superstore and Majestic Wine Warehouse (above) make it even more tempting by paying for your crossing, provided you buy more than £200 worth of stuff. We were definitely going to do that because we are in the EU and so aren’t limited to the six-bottle limit that applied before we joined.

(There’s currently a rumour that the UK Treasury will maintain the status quo even after Brexit, as long as you can prove the wine you bring back is for your own consumption. To which I will produce an x-ray of my liver and say OK matey, what do you think? And anyway, the rumour might turn out to be a lie. I know! Almost inconceivable.)

Some people would say I’m depriving the UK of significant tax revenues by buying our wine and beer in France instead of in Tesco or Sainsbury’s. I try to avoid these people. But if cornered, I’d say that the French seem to manage quite well without taxing their booze to the neck. Public transport is cheap. The roads are good, even the toll-free ones. The provision of medical care seems, er, healthy. Everything works pretty well. OK, their TV is awful, but you can’t have everything.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking that the USA was way ahead in terms of just about everything, then came the UK, then everyone else was way down there. This all stemmed from my post-imperial education, at a time when we thought Britain was pretty much the dog’s bollocks when it came to progress. It seems we still think that way, because the people who swung the vote in favour of Brexit are almost certainly the ones who never had the opportunity to see how the UK is, at best, on a level with our European partners. Plus loads of Leave voters are racists, but let’s not dwell on that.

Anyway. That’s that, as far as our little trips to France and Belgium go. Unless there’s a miracle, up will come the drawbridge at midnight on 31.10.19.

If only there was a next time


Goodbye, wine warehouse. Or is it au revoir? Nope, it’s goodbye


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Allez Calais

Remember the infamous booze cruise? Every weekend the cross-channel ferries would carry thousands of Brits over to Calais where they’d frenziedly strip the local supermarkets of as much cut-price beer, wine, spirits and ciggies as they could cram into the boots and back seats of their Fords and Vauxhalls.


P&O's Pride of Dover heading towards Calais. Or possibly Dover.


It was an unedifying spectacle, from the shoppers’ refusal to explore a France beyond the shopping mall to the almost mandatory obligation some of them had to vomit the moment the vessel set sail. There were other certainties too, such as someone always pointing out that the white cliffs of Dover ‘arent really that white’, or that on a smooth crossing the Channel is ‘like a millpond’.

British retailers were quick to exploit the trade, with branches of Oddbins, Tesco and Majestic soon opening up in the northern French ports. Other, less well-known stores sprang up, although with names like Eastenders, Cheers and Boozers Wine & Beer Warehouse, they left you in no doubt as to who their target market was.

I used to do the booze cruise as well. Living in the south-east of England made it easy, and competition between the ferry companies and the channel tunnel made it pretty cheap, too. Usually there’d be four of us, my wife and another couple. The men would take it in turns to drive. Some undefined but well-established law exempted the ladies from driving. They’re clever like that.

Plain sailing

We gradually discovered the best way to do the journey, at least the seafaring part. For around £10 more per person, you could go P&O Club Class. Boy, is it worth it. Not only do you get complimentary champagne and coffee (plus biccies); not only do you have a great view of the sea and, in some vessels, a working radar that lets you see how close you are to a mid-channel shipping disaster; not only do you get comfortable seats and free newspapers. Crucially, you also get to avoid the noisy mayhem of the lower decks: the slot machines, the shouty kids, the curry and chips, the pints of lager.


First in the queue for le Full English.


Another useful refinement is Priority Boarding. This means you’re amongst the first to drive on to the ferry and so are amongst the first to drive off.  It’s another additional expense, but you weigh that against your hatred of queueing. What we tend to do is have the priority boarding thing on the outward journey but not Club Class. The reason? By being first on you can be sure of grabbing a table at the on-board Langan’s and can enjoy their mighty breakfast. By the time you’ve finished that you’re virtually docking anyway, so you’ve no need of Club Class.

On the way back it’s the other way round. Don’t bother with Priority Boarding but do make sure you’ve booked Club Class. You’ll appreciate the rest, the quiet, the bubbly etc and, if you’ve still got some money left after all that shopping, you’ll love the massage.

It’s not just about saving money. Luckily

When the credit crunch hit, day trips to France suddenly became a lot less justifiable for many people. The potential savings you could make on a case of wine or beer no longer seemed that great. Indeed, such was the reduction in booze cruise shoppers – ourselves included – that the Calais outpost of Tesco closed its doors in 2009. How often does a Tesco close?

But then a recent mailshot from Majestic made me reconsider: choose wisely and it’s still possible to make some pretty good savings.  You can get a decent Cotes du Rhone for around £3.45 while a bottle of  the delectable Montana Pinot Noir costs £5.99 in Calais – in the UK you would expect to pay £12 or more.

But for me and my friends, the shopping is only part of the day out. (With the ability to order in advance, it’s quite a small part. All you have to do is turn up, pay up and load up.) We see it also as a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of our proximity to another country. It’s a holiday, albeit a very brief one. So after the shopping we visit local towns or villages, in the summer we might go to the beach, we’ll check out a few bars and, of course, enjoy a humungous meal. French roads being far less congested than in the UK, it’s amazing how far you can get in a day.

Mind you, we always end up getting lost. Once we had literally no idea where we were when we happened upon a load of breakdown trucks parked at their base in an air de repose. We tracked the drivers down to a concrete hut. Seated around a table, they were all playing cards, smoking Gauloises and drinking brandy. This was about 10.30am. Don’t break down in France.


Checking our order



It's not all wine. Coffee works out cheaper too.




Bowlers and Disney braces are the latest rage in France amongst this one man.



The French really know how to give it some welly




Carol ignored my warnings about the superglue



The dome of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne. Thanks, Wikipedia



Scary French Halloween window display




Carol and Jackie doing their best 'and then what happened' looks



Geoff says a bar steward took this picture, but I think he was an alright guy



Club Class passengers get unlimited* complimentary biscuits. *Biscuit provision may be limited




With a look that says 'When will this hell ever end?', Bravenewmalden considers restricting the tip for this onboard massage to all the money he has.



Enjoy it while it lasts. An all-too-rare full wine rack


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