Calais, France 1988
So, MY Calais happened some time after I first left Great Britain- In 1987 Jan and I escaped by taking a quiet route out of England because I was on probation and not technically allowed to leave the country. We found the smallest ferry service available and escaped through Plymouth to Roscoff. However, one year into our travelling escapade we parted company and ended up doing Europe in our own way.
After muchness, I was broke and hungry and on my way back home to get my teeth fixed (those who read my books will know what I mean). I ended up in Calais without the money to cross the Channel and that is where I met Leigh- a skinhead from London, who should not normally have been my friend but was. We hung around with different dudes for a few days getting drunk, and all the while I was thinking of a way to sneak onto a truck to get back to England to get my teeth fixed.
Meanwhile Leigh taught me a fantastic way to make money and get back home legally. So good was the plan I decided to spend nearly a month in Calais, earning more money than I had ever earned in my life doing nothing but being honest.
The scam was to approach all the tourists going back to England on the ferries and blag them for their spare change. Upon their return they could change all their notes back to English money, but their coins were not refundable and wasted, so unless they were planning on coming back anytime soon, they had no reason not to give us what they had left.
Because of human loveliness, it got to a point where we would be making two hundred- three hundred pounds a day (250-400 euros) and going to the kiosks that changed your money in the port got embarrassing. It came to a head when the guys working in the change kiosks complained about me and Leigh and the three other people that were doing the scam, purely because they were jealous about all the money we were making. Once we realised their negative vibes, going there armed with kilos of spare change to count and give us back in notes became too hostile.
The Gendarmerie did a massive clamp down and for a few weeks they deported, beat up and sent home anyone they deemed a traveller and not a tourist- game over.
They sent Leigh back to Dover, he hopped on the next ferry back, and most of the other travellers, who weren’t even in on the scam got sent back to England, too.- they didn’t catch me. I bought a first class ticket and went to spend all my dosh on beer and friends back in my hometown, while I waited for new dentures.
When I returned a month later with new teeth, on yet another lorry, sneaked on by a friendly driver, who was sympathetic to my search for another life outside of Thatcher’s Britain, there were at least a hundred people pulling our scam. I tried to make money but the vibe had gone, people were paranoid, the police were beating people and deporting them. At that time many lorry drivers were wielding their right to have another passenger in their vehicle free of charge, it was part of the contract for most of them so that spouses and family members could accompany them from time to time. They spurred on young people like me who were finding their place in the world and were actually really sympathetic and helpful. On many occasions a free meal would be thrown in, which again I presume could be written down on their expenses claim. Travelling was still romantic in those days and even revered by many. I wonder if I could get a free ride home from a lorry driver in Calais today? The ridiculousness in the previous sentence shows the gravity of the situation.
What is Calais today? My Goodness! How things change- Well they successfully cleared out all the hippies, only to have them replaced by a situation which is much worse and the people have a much more valid reason to be there. Our society has spent so much time discriminating against minorities it has created a vacuum, called terrorism. Anti government used to mean trashing a few public toilets or defacing a statue, now it is savage dismemberment and beheadings.
If society wants to reduce the number of terrorists in the world, it has to start treating its citizens with respect and gain their trust again. We are all feeling robbed and abused in the current climate, and living in Portugal that feeling is being magnified with every day that passes and every fine and every euro they are stealing from us all. Hi-jacking our bank accounts, taking our money and telling us we can only have it back if we can find our receipts of payment from five years ago is but one example of the abuse Portuguese residents are suffering. Auctioning off our homes when we owe two thousand euros to the Social Security, a service you have to pay for, but which is almost non-existent.
This kind of abuse has lead to an overall lack of faith in our world leaders and politicians and is giving some people the justification they need to commit heinous anti-establishment crimes against humanity. No quick fix here, but I would suggest trying to create a society that people want to be part of and stop alienating so many good hard-working people.