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The end of my Channel-ferry love affair. By Mary Kenny

Blog | By Mary Kenny | Feb 26, 2024


It’s said that you always know when you do something for the first time, but you don’t always know when you do something for the last time.

But I’m fairly sure that something I’ve done for the last time is cross the English Channel as a foot passenger.

Popping on to a ferry ’twixt Dover and Calais was a day trip I often enjoyed in times gone by (Newhaven to Dieppe was also a delight). But it has now become a grindingly disagreeable experience, as I discovered recently.

It seems the ferry companies don’t want foot passengers any more. Most of the carriers no longer allow cross-Channel transport on foot (as opposed to motor transport). Of all the ferry companies plying the waters of La Manche, only P&O welcomes tourists on foot – though I’m not sure if ‘welcome’ is the word.

The check-in time for this short sea crossing of 20 miles is a ludicrous 90 minutes in advance. The schedule of available ferries has been restricted. There is no longer a shuttle bus from the train station at Dover to the terminal. The terminal itself is harsh, stark and uncomfortable.

And the coach taking passengers from the terminal to the ferry drops off the travellers twice, along with their luggage, for forensic security procedures and passport control. On the day I travelled, there was an awful lot of hanging around in the cold, waiting to be ‘processed’.

I paid £135 to P&O for the return day trip. It was unsurprising, on the way back, that the small group of piétons vowed ‘Never again’. Pedestrians, remarked one of the travellers, are now second-class citizens on these ferries. In an era when the public are asked to used their cars less, in this context the car is still king.

Border controls are a necessity – but they can be managed speedily and efficiently. The Eurostar from London to Paris is now a superb, seamless procedure. Luggage security is part of modern life but, like the passport inspections, it seems to be exceptionally badly arranged for ferry foot passengers.

I had the pleasure of a nice lunch in Calais with a good friend. But next time I want to cross the Channel, I’ll take the Eurostar to Lille and a French train thereafter.

The day of the cross-Channel foot passenger is over.

The late Bernard Levin, who died 20 years ago this year, was once the most famous journalist of his age. He’s just appeared in a BBC programme, The Remarkable Journey of Bernard Levin, still available on BBC iPlayer.

Bernard walked out with a number of women, of whom I was one, although I think I was rather more in the chorus line than in a starring role.

My abiding recollection of our relationship was me desperately pretending to appreciate interminable hours of Wagner, when I’d much rather have listened to Cole Porter or pretty ballet music.

Bernard was immensely clever, and in many ways very sweet, but he had some old-fashioned attitudes to women. He liked to tell me, concerning literary translations, ‘Les traductions sont comme les femmes: quand elles sont belles, elles ne sont pas fidèles; quand elles sont fidèles, elles ne sont pas belles.’ ‘Translations are like women: when they are beautiful, they are not faithful; when they are faithful, they are not beautiful.’ It rhymes better in French, which is perhaps evidence of the unsatisfactory nature of translations.

As I was smitten, I was fidèle, although perhaps insufficiently belle.

Anyone who has an unused fur coat in the back of their wardrobe should give it away. Send it to Ukraine. Dispatch it to the United Nations winter appeal to keep refugees warm in cold climates.

Most British women have stopped wearing fur coats for fear of attracting the ire of animal activists, but it’s a shame if these very practical garments go to waste.

Although I don’t think animal protesters are quite so active these days – now that the Just Stop Oil lobby has taken centre stage, and lying down on motorways has become a much more exciting form of protest than throwing fake blood at women in animal pelts.

Ironically, one way to reduce the consumption of oil-based energy would be to return to wearing fur, a most effective, organic and planet-friendly form of natural heat.

An old school friend suggested we should meet again soon: ‘For it isn’t any younger we are getting.’ What a charming evocation of Hiberno-English, now probably archaic.

Old Irish phrases in English were often euphemistic and politely deflecting from the harsher realities of life, such as ‘I disremember’ instead of ‘I forget’. Or calling a relentless downpour ‘A fine soft day’.

So, it isn’t that we’re growing older. It’s just that we’re not getting younger!