I used to have famously bad luck while travelling.
During my 20s, I was run over, left on borders, hospitalised, had vehicles impounded, was robbed at knifepoint, and once even caught a train to entirely the wrong country. Basically, you name a travel disaster, I’ve had it.
But friends, that’s in the past.
I’m a parent now. Responsible. Careful. I’ve learned from my mistakes.
We’ve just got home from a week in France and my planning was (if I say so myself) impeccable. We made it to France, found our accommodation, and spent a lovely week on the beach, swimming and making sandcastles.
It all went exactly to plan – until we got on the ferry from Caen to Portsmouth this morning.
Now, if you’ve ever been on a car ferry you’ll know that there are about eight long decks where the cars are packed like sardines. When you park your car, one of the staff gives you a card letting you know exactly where your car is parked – there’s a number, denoting the deck, and a letter which tells you the nearest staircase.
For example, the card above shows that my car was parked on Deck 5, near staircase F.
Being a careful, responsible travelling parent I took the card and put it somewhere safe, before heading off for some coffee and spending the crossing reading a book while Flea watched movies on the laptop.
At 1pm, the captain announced that we were docking at Portsmouth and it was time to return to our cars. After a quick toilet trip for Flea, I removed the parking card from my travel wallet we headed off to staircase F and made our way down from deck 9 to deck 5.
Strangely, there was only a locked door marked CREW on deck 5.
We went back to deck 9, to the information desk, where a nice French lady looked at my card and pointed us to staircase F. “Gosh, we must have gone the wrong way,” I said cheerfully to Flea. “Never mind, let’s try again.”
We headed down staircase F to deck 5. Still no door.
We rushed back up 4 flights of stairs – the ferry was looking alarmingly empty by this point. The French lady at the information desk looked at me like I was simple. “We can’t actually find deck 5,” I confessed.
“Okay, try staircase G, and walk along,” she suggested.
We went along a corridor to the next staircase and scampered down the 4 flights of stairs to deck 5.
“Here we are, there’s a door here,” I said to Flea.
Flea laughed that laugh she does when she’s about to panic. “Thank goodness!”
We opened the door. Deck 5 was completely empty.
Okay. Don’t panic.
Run back up four flights of stairs to deck 9, and the information desk. By this point, I’m puffing like I’ve just smoked 40 fags.
“Can’t find it. Sorry,” I managed to wheeze at the woman.
“Really, Madame?” She looked at my card again.
“Yeah. It says 5F, but it’s definitely not there,” I said.
She called over another woman in a suit. They both looked at the card together and speak in French into their radios. A man in overalls arrived.
“Luc will help you,” said one of the suited women.
Luc said something in French that was almost certainly something like, “Don’t worry, people lose their cars all the time, I don’t think you’re stupid. At all. Definitely not.”
We followed Luc, hurrying back down four flights of stairs to the locked door we first encountered. He opened it using a special code, and we walked through to the (now) empty car deck.
“Is your car here?” he asked.
I was sorely tempted to make a gag about how, yes actually, I am driving the invisible Batmobile today but didn't because a) I don’t know the French for invisible and b) I was too out of breath to speak.
I shook my head witlessly, instead.
Luc talked into his radio for a while. A man in a suit appeared. Everyone stood around and looked at my card.
“I am so sorry, Madame, there must have been a mistake,” said the man in the suit.
Flea started to cry. “Mummy, has someone stolen our car?”
“No, silly,” I said, sounding about 5,000 times more confident than I actually felt. “We’ll find it.”
Luc and the man in the suit ushered us through a door to the stairs, and said we’d go and look for the car. The ferry was by now loading for the return journey back to Caen, so there wasn't much time.
We walked up to the next level, deck six, and Luc leaned over a barrier. After a few seconds, he said, “Is your car silver?”
In the distance, at the far entrance to the car deck, I could just about make out the back of my Civic, as it was being loaded onto a truck.
“Yes, that’s my car!”
The man in the suit was shouting frantically, but the four burly men loading my car onto the truck were too far away to hear, so we embarked on a frantic dash along the empty car deck in pursuit of my car. For the record, I look like a lame turtle when I run.
We got there just as they were strapping the back wheels of the car into some sort of lifting contraption. Eventually I managed to convey that, yes, it is my car, I do have keys and I'd quite like to drive it, please.
The crew were full of apologies. “I do not know how this mistake has happened,” said Luc, looking very sorrowful, and patting a tearful Flea on her head.
The man in the suit opened my car door for me. "We are very sorry, Madame," he said.
“Never mind,” I said, smiling bravely. “At least we’ve found it.”
I got into the car and drove off the ferry, waved off by the four burly Frenchmen, Luc, and the man in the suit. It was a lovely moment. Unfortunately, running up and down stairs carrying a six-year-old meant I'd lost all sensation below the knees, so stalled the car eight times before managing to get off the ferry, but you can’t have everything.
As we cruised down the ramp towards customs I glanced at the seat next to me.
Which is where I see this.
It was the ticket the attendant gave me when I parked my car earlier that day. On deck six.
The card in my pocket? The one with a 5 on it? Was from our outward journey, a week earlier.
I think this sort of thing could happen to anyone.