Since we took the decision to move to France travelling has become my new normal. I have yet to make the move as I still have a pretty good job in the construction industry that pays well. So I commute, and have collected boarding cards and ship layout plans for a fleet of ferries. My family, meanwhile, become ever more proficient in the language and ever more settled. I am the definition of unsettled.
However, I have to live in the here and now and of course I have my favourites and preferred routes. The Mont St Michel is a ship that I know like the back of my hand. I know where the nice toilets are, what the layout and numbering of the staircases is. Did you know that one of the exits from the car decks is called C6?
There has been plenty of sea-sickness along the way. Not mine. I have been at sea for more than sixteen days (if you laid all my crossings end to end). The trick is to sail on a full stomach and spend as much time asleep as possible.
I have slept in cabins with windows and without, and on floors and once, in a cinema. They can show some terrible films. More than once I have been the only person in the room. I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed. On another occasion I was forced to remain in the cinema due to the choppy seas and had no choice but to watch a comedy fairy-tale about someone called Bridget Jones. Watching Wonder Woman with my eldest daughter was a sea-faring high.
Several times the ferry has been over-run with French schoolchildren on a visit. They are always very polite. In the shared sleeping lounges it is the English who insist on holding forth until the lights go out. On my last crossing there was no room in the shared lounges as strikes had forced us all to make compromises. I slept alone in the trucker’s lounge with only my snoring for company.
On a stormy tide the Barfleur creaks like a bouncy castle made out of wicker baskets. I have footage of waves washing over the windows of the café of the Normandie. For a trip back in time I would recommend the Seven Sisters between Newhaven and Dieppe with its magenta dining room and electric blue and banana yellow canteen. The car decks are painted dark green too.
Travelling is mainly waiting, for the queue through passport control, for the ship to set off, for the traffic to die down, for the automatic barriers to open. I’m currently reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, which opens at the end of a long journey from Switzerland to Moscow. It is a reassuringly thick book, which, I’m certain, will get me through all the waiting…