Back in the early 1980’s, I used to come to France fairly regularly. At least once every two or three months. There were three things that I noticed from my first trip and that have stayed with me ever since.

  1. French women are, generally speaking, drop dead gorgeous. Even the most average looking woman has a certain style, a certain je ne sais quoi, that makes her appear to be well above average in the looks department.

CHECK!

  1. The French refuse to speak, or even learn, English. Even those that clearly do understand English either avoid or outright refuse to speak the language.

CHECK!

  1. There is dog shit EVERYWHERE. Great steaming dollops of the stuff that people walk into and smear all over the bloody pavements.

CHECK BLOODY CHECK!

OK, now on to Christmas Day.

I had asked around and found out that, traditionally, everything closes at 04:00pm on Christmas Eve and opens again twenty-four hours later at 04:00pm on Christmas Day. I also determined that the Family Pub would be serving food on Christmas Day night. Hence my invitation to Geoff. However, just to be on the safe side, I went to what has become my favourite bakers in Calais, Artisan Boulanger on Rue Royale, and got myself four baguette “sandwiches”………and a choc-au-pan. And, yeah, proper French baguettes are way better than any that I’ve tried elsewhere. I ate two of them on the night of Christmas Eve. And the choc-au-pan. It would have been rude not to.

Christmas morning, I looked out of my bedroom window (I can see the Family Pub from there – rather convenient, non) and it was open. Trying to shower while having various chats with my family members back in Blighty was not the easiest thing to attempt. Especially since some of those chats where live facetime chats. I also checked on FB and it seemed like their Christmas Day opening times had changed to 10:00am to 02:00pm, this was going to be tight. But, I got that wrong. The opening hours that I saw were their normal opening hours of 10:00am to 02:00am. Not 02:00pm!

**note to self – pay closer attention to announcements etc., especially if they’re online and you’re in a rush**

By the time I got down there it was well after 12:30pm and……….the bar was closed. There was a sign on the door which I managed to decipher as saying that they would be open at 05:00pm.

I didn’t want to go back to my lonely little hotel room. I can’t smoke in there anyway. So, I sat at one of the outdoor tables and smoked and surfed social media on my phone.

Perhaps this is what had confused me earlier. The tables and chairs are usually put away when the Family Pub is closed. But, they had all been laid out so, I thought that the place was open. Reasonable, right?

I sat outside for well over an hour and lost count of the number of people who turned up expecting the Family Pub to be open. One such group was a couple with their teenage daughter.

Stuart and Laura are originally from Tottenham but now live in Cheshunt. Laura works at Subway in Hertford Town. Whoever coined the phrase “it’s a small world” didn’t know the half of it. We chatted for a while until they decided to go back to their hotel to wait for opening time. Eventually, I did the same. Back in my little hotel room, I ate the two remaining baguettes. Not exactly a Christmas Lunch but it had to suffice.

 

#NomadLife

Later that evening, Rue Royale seemed to come back to life. I went back to the Family Pub in search of a proper meal. Not roast turkey with all the trimmings, of course.

Stuart, Laura and their daughter were there. I said hello and was tempted to ask to join them, but their food had already been served and I didn’t want to intrude. The place was packed so I ended up sitting right near the back. Steak, chips and a salad. Which was rather disappointing. However, the two glasses of Merlot helped it go down a treat.

As I was finishing my meal, a young guy (who was sitting at the table to my right) asked me if I was English. We exchanged pleasantries and then he came to join me at my table.

Nick is originally from Canada but has spent most of his life in Belgium and Switzerland. He is currently studying electrical engineering at Lancaster Uni. We ordered beers and went outside so that I could smoke. I found out that Nick is in Calais doing voluntary work to help refugees. Like Geoff (who he knows of but gave a weird expression at the mention of Geoff’s name), he does everything from chopping firewood to preparing sleeping bags and blankets and anything else that the refugees need to help them survive winter. At one point, Stuart and Laura joined us while we were deep in conversation about the refugee crises and the plight of migrants in general. Laura’s views were very different to ours, I would peg them as hard-core Brexiteers. Brexiteers who want out of the EU because of immigration. Not understanding that the immigrants that they are so much against, in this case Somalians, have nothing to do with the EU. Having said that however, I do understand their perspective. The indigenous people of any nation do not want to see their cultural identity subsumed by migrants who refuse to assimilate the culture and values of their host nation. I said as much to them, but also pointed out that I am a first generation immigrant and that, whilst I believe that it is incumbent on all immigrants to embrace their hosts and to try to fit in, I do recognise the difficulties of the current crop of migrants to the UK. Because, in many ways, we experienced a lot worse.

After they left us, Nick asked me if my early experiences of arriving into the UK can compare. If they really were worse. I told him about the signs in the windows of lodging houses which said “No Dogs, No Irish, No Blacks”, about the house we lived in in Tollington Park, about the institutionalised racism that we experienced, about the blatantly racist TV shows that we all watched and, ironically, found funny. I told him that, yes, our experience was worse.

Nick and I enjoyed quite a few more beers. Until about 11:30pm when Nick looked about ready to pass out. I was still stone cold sober. We laughed a bit as I called him a total light-weight and that he should go home and go to bed. I was a bit concerned about him and offered to walk him back to his hostel, but he insisted that he was OK and that he would make it back, no problem.

Earlier in the evening I told him about my project and my wish to take photos and find a story to tell about the Calais refugees and gave him my card. I asked him to try to introduce me to the charity, and the people, that he works with. He said that he would. Try that is.

We’ll see.