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Monday, 22 March 2010

Lost In France

I’m going to have to stop using the net. It’s just causing me too many headaches. Today for example I fired up Firefox and there was the BBC’s home page. Nothing unusual about that except on the Weird and Wonderful section was “Erotic film must incur full tax”. I did what any red blooded male would I clicked thro’ to the story.

A Belgium sex shop owner had tried to argue that viewing a sex video in one of his shop’s private booths was a cultural activity and therefore should attract a reduced rate of VAT (6% paid by cinema owners compared with 21%). The European court has ruled that solitary viewing of erotic videos is not a cultural activity: for it to be so these would have to be viewed collectively. To get round this I'd have thought all the owner needed to do was to make the booths slightly larger and install another seat; but then maybe that would inhibit his customers.

Fascinating I thought and my eye drifted over to the section “See Also” and the story “Recession’s impact on the sex industry”. I did what any red blooded man would do I clicked thro’. Well, much to my surprise I learnt that the recession was good news for the sex trade. Rather than a fall off it was on a rising trend. Lots of feel good stories about young women on the game to support their children and saving up to go to university. And then there’s Helen, 51, who used to work for a tour operator before her husband revealed he was gay, had a sex change and left her. She is now working as an escort. You couldn’t make it up: except this is Somerset so anything possible.

And now for something completely different. Those of you who have been paying attention will recall that I’d booked a trip on the Euro tunnel as a birthday present for my wife. Yesterday was the day for the trip sur/sous la Manche.

A day’s trip in the car shouldn’t cause too many headaches, should it? I am the panicky kind – especially finding out that my passport had run out. Insurance – check; wait better read the small print – 3 trips a years in EU countries are covered. So that’s ok. Breakdown cover – it’s only for a day. But…that’s when things go wrong. So quickly on line to order a day’s breakdown. A bargain at £9.04 (including a 30% discount). That’s an annual rate of £3,300!

I then read the helpful notes on what’s required when we Brits venture into foreign climes – vis France. Reflective triangle and High visibility over jacket. It is compulsory in France – if you’re stopped and don’t have that it’s an instant fine of over 100 Euros – ouch! If you don’t have a Euro number plate it’s compulsory to show GB plates. And you need headlight correctors so you don’t dazzle the on coming traffic as you bear down on them on the wrong side of the road. However as we were only going over for the day and would be returning before dark I decided to skip that cost.

I had only discovered all this at about 11 pm the day before which meant buying the stuff at the AA Shop at the Euro tunnel terminal.

I was nervous about driving to Folkestone. It’s not far but my last “long distance” journey to Norwich resulted in a very nice letter from the Norfolk constabulary informing me that a car registered in my name was timed at travelling at a speed in excess of the statutory speed limit (an SP30 to those in the know). 3 points and £60 into the Norfolk Police's Benevolent Fund.

It’s just that the modern car gives no impression of speed whatsoever. Travelling at anything slower than 60 on a motorway feels like the handbrake's on – especially as every car that overtakes you is travelling at least 20 -30 mph faster. The speedo’s no help at all; it’s obscured by the steering wheel.

Since I would have to travel within the speed limits we decided to leave 3 hrs before our arrival at 10:20 am. Arriving a good hour and half early gave me plenty of time to buy the required safety kit and GB plates from the AA shop. And strongly advise another customer to do the same. He wasn’t too pleased to pay out £20 more than he had intended; he wouldn’t listen to my explanation of France's penalty fee (ancien) regime.

We had a painless journey under the sea which gave us time to move the car clock a hour forward but our wristwatch unchanged (the logic escapes me). French time is always one hour ahead of ours. I suspect it’s so they can claim to have thought of everything first. My wife as navigator directed me to St Omer a quaint market town 40 k from Calais. The trouble was – it was closed; in fact it was doubly closed it being a Sunday and polling day. The streets were empty and while the restaurants were open the other shops weren’t. We ended up eating pizzas in a bar owned by a Brit from Maidstone.

A very quick walk around town confirmed it’s deadness and we headed back to Calais to shop in one of the huge Malls that entice people from across the world to stay at Sangatte so they can shop locally. The enormous Cite d’Europe looked suspiciously quiet. The car park was empty. The place was closed; with a smattering of  young kids, parents and bemused English shoppers wandering what alien place they hit upon where Tesco’s is closed on a Sunday.

So it was back to the Euro Tunnel terminal and its shops. Except, of course, their prices were higher than on the UK High Street and the internet. We ended up buying 6 bottles of Californian wine for 14 Euros. We had taken 300 Euros with us and had spent less than 60.

We arrived back in Walthamstow in time to see the last half of Antiques Roadshow.

No so much Madame Bouverie; more 'Allo.'Allo. But as I've always said travel broadens the mind!

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