Today was a bit of a pain to be honest. I was awake from 04:00am, yesterday’s experience with the refugees in Dunkerque kept playing over and over on mind. In the end, I gave up trying to sleep. Instead, I got the ball rolling on some changes and additions that I want to make to the website. And, not thinking about the refugees, helped me to plan and flesh out the story that I want to tell.

Leaving Calais is a bit sad. I’ve come to really like it here. There’s a nice sort of community vibe about the place. Even yesterday morning at the launderette and the couple from Yorkshire that I met, not only were we chatting away in no time at all, they also confirmed what I feel about Calais. It’s NICE. And then there’s the Family Pub. That place has been a great source of general human contact. It’s been a life-saver, it even gave me an intro to Geoff and the refugees. I hope that I find somewhere like that in Neuilly-sur-Marne.

The train journey was easy. One weird thing. Because I got my ticket online, I had nothing to show at the barriers. Obviously, this is quite normal in the digital age but, I didn’t even have to scan or otherwise present my online ticket. There was nobody there to check it and, I couldn’t see any machines which scanned online tickets. Apparently, this is perfectly normal and acceptable. At one point, what looked like a conductor came into the carriage, said bonjour to the passengers, walked up and down the carriage smiling, and that was it. In short, nobody checked that I had paid to travel. Then, at Paris Gare du Nord, the barrier just opened for me to walk through. I wonder if people abuse this very lax system. Strange.

Got into Gare du Nord at about 07:15pm (right on time) and it was chaotic. What one would expect at any major London train station for example. But there just seemed to be a lot more people. The queue for a taxi was longer than any I’ve seen anywhere. So, I had a cig and pondered what to do. There was little choice to be honest. The thought of trying to manage my luggage on a public transport system that I didn’t know, when I had no idea of what train to get or where to get it or, indeed, the name of the station that I needed to go to; no, it was all too much to contemplate. While I was standing there mulling all of this over, a guy asked me if I wanted a taxi. He was obviously a hustler (they were all over the place) so I was more than a little wary. He saw my reticence and told me that, because of the rail strikes, Paris was gridlocked and that I would be waiting for well over an hour. He then asked me where I wanted to go. I told him Neuilly-sur-Marne.

“Very far. Maybe one and half hours. Traffic too much.”

“I know it’s far away. How much?”

And so, the haggling began. He said €140. I said no way. He asked me how much I thought it would be. I said max €80. I would have gone way lower but, he was right, Paris was gridlocked and I’d be sitting in traffic for God knows how long, with the meter running! He told me to go join the queue and wait for an hour or more. I said fine, but made no move to leave. The haggling resumed. Finally, we got €90. Sensing that this would be his limit, I said fine. Again.

We started walking towards the road. Up to this point, I had assumed that he was the driver. A hustler for sure, but still a taxi driver. Wrong!

Just as we reached the kerb, another guy came along and also asked me if I needed a taxi. The two of them started arguing. The new guy, a fair bit older than the first guy, assured me that they were friends and that everything was OK. He asked me where I was going and how much I was going to pay. I told him Neuilly-sur-Marne and €90. The first guy said €90 plus………..before he could say anything further, I said,

“No. No plus. Just €90.”

Again, before he could reply, the new guy said,

“OK, OK no plus. No problem. We go for €90. Is OK?”

The first hustler melted into the streets and I went with the new guy. Again, thinking that he was the driver. Again, wrong!

We finally come to a hectic junction. There are cars, there are buses, there’s people whizzing about on scooters. Not traditional mopeds, there are plenty of them as well but no, these are electric versions of the type that we rode on as kids. And they are everywhere. I saw quite a few of them in Calais but, here in Paris, it’s like there’s been a massive breeding program and the damned things have multiplied exponentially. To make matters worse, on this chaotic night in these chaotic streets, the people riding them see absolutely no distinction between a road and a pavement.

Now the older hustler tells me to wait the kerb and goes rushing off to a gleaming, black BMW 7series. It’s parked on the junction, at the traffic lights. Yep, on the junction, at the traffic lights. After a brief conflab with the real taxi driver, he comes back and tells me two things. First, the driver is coming so be ready because the road is very busy. No shit Sherlock. We are at a junction in the middle of Paris on a Friday night when there are rail strikes going on all over France. Second, I have to pay him €20 now and the remaining €70 to the driver when we reach my destination. Now I know what the other guy meant when he said €90 plus. Yep, a hustler.

The taxi driver seems really pissed off. He tells me that he knows the address and that it will take about an hour and a half to get there, information that I’ve already had tonight. I don’t know if he’s pissed off at the traffic (very likely), the journey that we are about to embark upon (most probably) or, he’s generally a miserable git. All of the above is my evaluation.

Miserable git says nothing throughout the entire journey. The taxi driver who took me to Calais Frethun train station didn’t stop talking. By the time we got there, I felt that I had received a complete expose of every journey that he had undertaken in the last God knows how many months. This bloke, nothing. So, I sit back and enjoy the luxury of the 7series beemer. Which is cool for about the first half of the drive. Miserable git is lurching and swerving about so much that I’m beginning to feel decidedly sea-sick. My only hope is that, once we get out of the heavy traffic, hell stop driving like this.

We finally reach Rue Paul et Camille Thomoux in Neuilly-sur-Marne. It’s well after 08:00pm. It’s dark and, the number of the house is not visible. However, miserable git has stopped and is certain that this is the right house. I get out of the car to get a better look. Nothing, so I phone Denis (the host). Miserable git is shouting at me to pay him first. I ignore the fool. Denis answers and I tell him my problem. I ask him if there is a huge sign outside his house advertising Leclerc, a huge co-op and hypermarket chain here in France. He tells me that his house is red and white. Dude, it’s dark. For all I know, I’m looking at a house which is brown and cream. There’s a massive sign on your front garden. It’s huge. It’s on friggin’ stilts. And you’re ignoring me when I mention this monstrosity and, instead, keep banging on about a red and white house. Which, by the way, in daylight, is more burgundy than it is red. Finally, he gets it. Yes, I’m at the right house, he forgot about the sign because it’s temporary. Mate, it’s on massive steel RSJ’s embedded into your front garden. There is nothing temporary about this sign.

Having got that cleared up, I now turn to miserable git.

“Mate, why are you stressing about me paying you? You’ve got all of my stuff in the boot of your car and it’s worth way more than your €70. I’m not going anywhere. OK!”

Miserable git apologises and pisses off back from whence he came.

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