Monday morning and I'm off on tour again. Just a little 4 day skip over to Northern France this time. I am taking an all girls school from Shrewsbury. They were picked up at 05:30 this morning and so the coach is being fed to me at Corley Services. I'm driving the monster 14.5m tri-axle this week. I've not driven it for a while so I will have to think harder all the time. Just the thought makes my brain hurt!
I arrived at Corley in plenty of time for a quick breakfast before my coach arrived. They turned up late due to the school leaving nearly half an hour late and then they got held up in rush hour traffic around Birmingham. We were booked on the channel tunnel and with the girls needing to have a comfort stop on the way, we would be cutting it fine to make our booked time.
The coach arrived and I introduced myself to the teachers who all seemed very pleasant although a little straight laced. They reminded me of the book 'Little Women'! Then I made them move seats with the girls so they were next to emergency exits and more evenly spread throughout the coach to keep an eye on the girls. They weren't too impressed and said that they thought that only applied in France. Simple answer to that one. It's a safety issue and strongly advised regardless of which country you are in. Now move!!
I introduced myself to the girls over the mic and gave them my usual spiel. "Seatbelts must be worn at all times, non negotiable. If you are caught not wearing your seat belt you will be cleaning the coach at the end of the day. There will be a competition every day of who can make the most mess around their seat and the winner will be cleaning the coach at the end of the day. If you don't like the prize, don't make a mess!" They look horrified every time!
So we set off and after an hour they were ready for their comfort break. They had been on the coach for nearly 3 hours. We pulled into services and had only been there for about 5 mins before the fire alarm went off and the building was evacuated. We had stopped here for the girls to have chance to get some breakfast so they waited until they were allowed back in again so they could get some food. Our 20min break had turned into 40mins and the excuse was the 5 mins that the building had been evacuated! We're not due to do anything other than go to the hotel when we arrive, but I'd like to check in in time for the train we are booked on so I can spend the afternoon on the beach! But being in time is now out of the window.
We continued on to Folkestone and the teacher started panicking because we were late. Then one of the girls had a message to say there were 5 hour delays at the tunnel. There was nothing I could do about it and we had to get to the check in. We queued for 40 mins to check in. The guy on the desk said he'd put us on the next train which would be at 1350. That was in an hours time. We drove around to the terminal building and again the girls had been on for 3 hours and needed a wee. Just as we pulled into the terminal car park, our letter was called to proceed to vehicle check in and loading. I told the teacher, no shops, wee only! She told the girls over the mic but I didn't think she got the message across so I reiterated what she had said with "be quick girls, if you are longer than 5 mins we will miss our train and be sat here for 5 hours!" That did the trick! We drove round to our lane for boarding where I was watching the info boards where the 1350 train was delayed to 1415. Then our letter was transferred off the 1415 and onto the 1530. Then the 1530 was delayed until 1645. When I had said we will be sat here for 5 hours I really didn't think we would be but we wouldn't be far off.
Emergency food parcels were being handed out and the Channel Tunnel had now been closed to anyone who wasn't already there. Apparently, a non eurotunnel train had booked to use part of the line but hadn't taken any notice of the height restriction and entered a tunnel, pulling out 250m of 25,000V electric cable. It was going to take at least 24hrs to repair and so only one tunnel was in use.
Eventually we were called to board and I put the monster coach on the train like a pro! We were finally on our way again but our next problem was that we weren't going to make it in time to the restaurant where we were booked for our evening meal. A phone call was made and the time of our booking couldn't be moved because the Tour de France would be in Le Touquet tomorrow and so it was really busy in town this evening. So we had to cancel. The teachers asked if I could find a macdonalds where we could stop for our evening meal. How revolting! I wasn't at all happy about maccy's for tea but that was what they wanted so that is what we did. The staff in maccy's were so quick and efficient I was amazed. There were 60 people in our group who walked in, without warning, and put in one mass order. Within 45 mins we had all eaten and were on our way again.
The teachers were already aware that the coach couldn't get to the hotel and I was surprised at where they had suggested to be dropped off because I think I probably could have got them a little closer but not particularly easily. But they were happy to walk so that was good for me. The coach is parked at the airport and the teachers are getting me taxis too and fro.
Once I'd had a quick change I went to the beach with the girls, the place I should have been 6 hours ago!
I went for a walk into town to find a cashpoint and on the way back I couldn't resist an ice cream. The town was buzzing because the Tour de France is coming through here tomorrow.
We left the beach at 10pm. I was feeling quite tired and went straight to bed. I was surprised to find I had quite a large, although tired looking room with a double bed. I'll be quite happy in here for the next 3 nights. And surely after today, things will go more smoothly.....
I didn't wake up as early as I'd wanted this morning and so I had to skip breakfast and go to fetch the coach. When I arrived at the coach park, it was chocka block with vehicles for the Tour de France. They were blocking me in. I spoke to several people who all said 'yes 2 minutes', except it wasn't. The time I was supposed to pick up my group came and went, I couldn't get a phone signal and no one was prepared to move their vehicles so I could leave. I was starting to get quite concerned because not only was I late to pick up my group but the roads would be closed soon for the Tour de France and I wouldn't be able to get in at all. Finally, the Tour de France vehicles were on the move and I eventually got round to pick up my group 45 mins late and just before the roads were closed.
Our first visit today was to Nausicaa at Boulogne. This is the biggest aquarium in Europe and is a fantastic visit. It is one of the largest public aquariums of Europe. Nausicaa is described as a center of scientific and technical discovery of the marine environment, focusing primarily on the relationship between man and the sea.
After their visit the girls had a picnic lunch in the park before we moved up to Boulogne old town for an hour. The coach park here was particularly busy. I struggled to get my monster out of the way and parked and it was an equal struggle to exit the car park back onto the road. But the girls enjoyed their time here so it was worth it.
Our final visit of the day was to a wheat farm where we also be having our evening meal. We had a demonstration on how to make corn dollies and decorations before we all attempted making corn dolly hearts. This is what they should look like.
This is what mine looked like!
Well someone had to do a really bad job so that none of the girls had the worst one! Then we were moved into a barn for dinner. For starters we had eggy and ham bread and these funny cheesey shoux pastry type things. They were ok. For main course, the girls had one cheese and ham pancake, the teachers had two accompanied with a side salad. For pudding we had more eggy bread with chocolate sauce and sugar. Considering this was our main meal of the day I thought it was terrible. The teachers did ok out of it but the girls, the ones who were actually paying, should have had a more substantial meal. We left and headed back to the hotel.
I dropped the girls off and asked the teacher to call me a taxi for 20mins time. One hour later, no taxi. None of my phones were working so I started walking. It took me 40 mins to walk to the hotel and I wasn't a happy bunny when I got there. Also, at the hotel, the front door is locked at 8pm and you need a key fob to get in. Only one fob had been issued to the whole group and it wasn't me! Luckily there was a teacher waiting for me while everyone else was at the beach. So an hour and a half after dropping off I was in my hotel room with very sore feet because I am wearing rubbish shoes for walking. A soak in the bath calmed me but what I really wanted to do was go and find a bar and have a glass of wine but I couldn't because I didn't have a key to get into the hotel. Instead I festered in my room! Surely tomorrow has got to get better.
I was awake early this morning and went down for breakfast before the girls. When I finished I asked the receptionist to call a taxi. Half an hour later it still hadn't turned up. Finally a lady driver arrived saying 'sorry for the wait, I had to get diesel', but the back seat of the car was full of shopping bags. Anyway, I got out to the coach and back to pick up just in time. I had mentioned to one of the teachers this morning that I would be handing a dust pan and brush to the girls on the back row so they could clean up the mess they had made. They were brought up to the coach early to clean the coach! I was hearing comments like 'that wasn't there yesterday' and 'we didn't do that'. It had even been mentioned that I had thrown a bag of crisps on the floor so they would have to clean! The teacher was having none of it and she wouldn't let anyone on the coach until they had cleaned it! Bonus! I only wanted them to clean their own mess but now they had cleaned the whole thing! I bet there's no mess tonight!
Our first visit today was to a snail farm. I found this quite interesting, I'd never visited a snail farm before. We learnt that all snails are born male and have a life span of 6 weeks. At 6 weeks old the snails turn into females and lay approximately 100 eggs each before they die from exhaustion.
At this particular farm, 300,000 snails are harvested each season, leaving a few to reproduce and keep the cycle going. The snails are harvested by hand, removed from their shells with a needle and dropped in a pot of boiling water.
The most popular way of eating snails is whole, in garlic butter, individually served in a snail shaped biscuit. Most of the girls tried these but only about a third of them enjoyed it. Snails are also made into a pate with pork, served on toast. Very few of the girls liked this. Other things we were told could be done with snails is snail quiche, snail tart or snail vol au vents. I didn't try anything because it all looked horrible and I don't want the slime down my throat!
Our next visit today was at the bee museum where we had a picnic lunch before a tour of the bees. This was of equal interest.
There are three different bees. The workers, who go through 3 stages in their 6 week life. When they are born they are cleaners. They spend their time cleaning the cells and disposing of dead bees. Next they feed the Queen. In the final stage of their life it is their job to collect nectar. They do this by rubbing their abdomen on the flowers and when they are back in the hive, they use their back legs to scrap the nectar off their abdomen and into the cells. All workers are female and they do not sleep so they die from exhaustion at 6 weeks.
Then there are the drones. Drones are male bees and their sole purpose is to fertilise the Queen. Drones are bigger than workers because they never leave the hive. They just stay and eat all day and would eat the whole winter ration of food so in September there is a 'massacre' of the drones. The Queen does not lay eggs in the winter so there is no use for the drones and they are killed.
Finally there is the Queen. They Queen is chosen by the workers when she is born and is only fed on Royal Jelly so she grows bigger and with an extended abdomen and she will live for 5 years. Her abdomen is used to store 5 years worth of sperm when she is fertilised by the drone. The Queen decides to lay male or female eggs depending on what is needed in the hive. When the hive becomes over populated, the Queen leaves the hive taking worker bees with her and starts a new colony. This is the only time you will see a swarm of bees. The workers in the hive which no longer has a Queen chooses a young bee to take her place and feeds it Royal Jelly so she grows to be Queen. So this is how the reproduction of bees works. I really enjoyed this visit.
Our final visit today was to a chocolate factory. We had a demonstration on how the chocolates are made and a tasting before buying in the shop. We were sampling the fresh chocolates which had just been made and they were so much nicer being fresh. We were only here for an hour then headed back to Le Touquet.
One of the teachers rang for my taxi on the way back and he was there waiting for me when I parked up. He took me to a restaurant in town where we were booked for our evening meal. The girls had no choice of meal, chicken and chips, although this seemed to go down very well as it was the first substantial meal they'd had since we arrived. The teachers had a choice of chicken, salmon or spaghetti bolognaise. Hand cut chips and side salads. And I didn't complain about us having bottomless carafes of wine! The food that was served up tonight was very nice. I'd had spaghetti bol which was my first proper meal of the week and I hadn't realised how much I needed it.
By 8 o'clock we were leaving the restaurant and I was looking forward to a relaxing evening. I had a walk along the beach but it was quite windy and chilly so I didn't go far before heading for the hotel where I just chilled with my tunes!
Nothing really to report today. Luggage was loaded onto the coach after breakfast and I had to sit in the coach park while the group went to the market for an hour before leaving for the channel tunnel. There were more immigrants about today than I think I have ever seen. Not a problem for us as we are not stopping anywhere other than the tunnel but the girls were quite nervous of their presence. We managed to get an early train but lost the time we had made up in heavy traffic due to accident after accident on the M1. I met my feeder driver at Corley Services, told the girls how good they had been and how much I'd enjoyed the past 4 days with them but also how I'd told the feeder driver about the most mess cleaning the coach! I thanked the teachers and was on my way. The next morning, the office received a very nice email from the lead teacher thanking me and saying how marvellous I am! More happy customers!