Tuesday 30 May 2023

Ski Trip Number 13

In April, I got to take the school ski trip away for the first time since 2020. I'd picked my favourite resort in Italy again, for the first one back in a while. It was wildly popular, selling out in just 24 hours, so that I had to extend the places to 50, making it my biggest trip ever. I had an eye to the fact this was trip number 13 but decided we would call it trip number 14, as there was the aborted 2021 trip that I had to sell to parents because I'd already put my name to a booking form, even though it was cancelled and all the money was repaid on insurance. Trip number 13 was cancelled, I decided. There will be nothing unlucky about trip number 14. 

(I should say that I am not really superstitious about numbers but Mr Z is, which has its effects on a person).

It was not good to wake up on the day of the trip to Radio 4 announcing that there were severe delays at the Port of Dover. Late morning, the tour company rang me to let me know that we would have a delayed start, so I went to school and sat in a cafe, making a WhatsApp group for all the parents on the swanky new trip phone. 

We set off two hours late and got to the port in good time. It seemed deserted, but as the driver pulled round, the attendants asked him if they'd contacted him to come down. No, he said. They told us to leave and he asked where to go. 'Anywhere but here,' said the man, gloomily. So we headed back up the motorway. By this point it was 9pm. The students were asking if we were still getting the 9.10 ferry. They weren't far off...

At Folkestone services, there were more attendants in high vis, who tried to turn us away. 'We've got 65 coaches in here already, you can't come in.' The coach driver managed to convince them that we had to come in as we were meeting our onward drivers there, so they grudgingly gave us a space on the petrol station forecourt. There were toilets and a shop nearby, and it was brightly lit, which was a relief. However, this is not the place I would have chosen to spend the next 9 hours with 50 teen girls. It was the world's worst sleepover of all time. Endless talking and up-and-downing and general kerfuffle persisted through the night until everyone was on their last nerve. In the end I went and stood in the aisle for the last half hour before dawn, eyeballing the back row who just would not stop talking. 'She's just standing there watching us,' one of them whispered. 'Yes, because you won't shut up,' I hissed back. 

Worst night of my life, I reckon. I spent some time thinking about whether there have been worse, but that wins. 

Finally, at 6.30am, our onward drivers started up the coach to bring us down to Dover. I felt positive. But then we spent the next 13 hours queueing in Port of Dover. Port of Dover's facilities before check in amount to half a dozen ladies toilet stalls and a Costa concession. There were around 60 coaches queuing at any one time and I can categorically state - this was not enough. The toilet queue never got below 45 minutes long, though the men's toilets were, to borrow a phrase, free flowing. In the end, half the staff walked back into Dover and bought Morrison's entire sandwich cabinet back so we at least had something to eat. The students were happy, tbf. They had power for their phones. They had each other. They had 59 other coaches of teenagers to flirt with. The BBC were filming from the cliff so they got on the news, much to the delight of the parents ('Is that you quietly sobbing by the coach Mrs Z?' one of them joked after sending a picture of the TV through on the WhatsApp group). No, that was me screeching 'SAFEGUARDING' at the cliff when I didn't know who was filming. 

The parents mounted a letter-writing campaign to Suella Braverman and our local MP. 

The students mounted a campaign to get every car and truck that flew past the coach queue to beep at them. 

I paced. 

Finally, at 7pm, we made it to the front of the queue. I should say that it's not really clear whose fault this is. It's natural to want to blame the French but, to be fair to them, I'm not sure what else they could have done. There is one building with three kiosks in it for checking coach passports, and it was fully staffed. Now, they could have laid on extra staff and had them come onto coaches to do the checking, but this is impractical now that all passports have to be stamped. The rumour is they asked the British government to expand the coach facilities, a request that was refused. So...nobody really to blame then, except obviously Brexit. 

By the time we made it to the other side, we were booked on the 9.30 ferry. Only 24 hours and 20 minutes late. This necessitated a stay in France, at a hotel where the poor hotelier had gone for some shut eye after being assured by our tour operator that we would not arrive before 2am, though the drivers had told them 1am. We got there at 1am. We spent 15 minutes trying to wake her up before Dave Coaches beeped the mega horn and succeeded in task. It seems she had had to do the same for a coach party the night before, who had arrived at 3am, and she'd turned the entire allocation of 60 beds around overnight. 

There was a hotel cat, which I appreciated. 

We left at 11am on Monday morning, finally limping into our Italian resort at gone midnight that night. 58 hours of travelling. A day's skiing lost. But worth it. 

Luckily, the rest of the trip went off pretty much without a hitch. No major injuries, no lost students (some naughty ones who could have get lost but thankfully didn't), no bad weather. Lovely, helpful coach drivers and a smooth return journey. It seems number 13 used up all its bad vibes on the journey over.

And what a treat to be back in Sauze for a fifth time. Having skied in France at half term for my last couple of trips, I had forgotten what it was like to go somewhere that was so thoroughly deserted. Easter in Sauze is quiet and there were days when we had it almost to ourselves. I managed to get a repeat of this picture from 2010.

Chuckling at skiing in sunglasses with my hair down. I'd find both of these things intensely irritating now. But I still prefer a mitten to a glove. 

Here endeth the saga. I don't do story posts like this anymore but I had to tell the full tale, for posterity. 

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