Hold Tight! - Europe à la carte
Chapter 5
Page 32
Hold Tight!
Chapter 5
28 A new start
29 Bus station
30 The NBC
31 Renumbering
32 Europe à la carte
33 Favourite places
34 Touring
1 Beginnings
2 Learning
3 Getting Away
4 Winchester
5 Freedom
6 Southampton
7 City Transport
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The first Thoresen car ferries from Southampton to Cherbourg were small and nowhere near as well equipped as the modern mini-liners which crossed the channel by the end of the twentieth century.
They were followed by newer Townsend Thoresen ferries but these were still small in comparison to the ships which would eventually be introduced.
The small ferries often meant an uncomfortable crossing. On a particularly rough night one winter no vehicles could be loaded at Le Havre, the ferry left from a pontoon with just a handful of foot passengers.
We were not allowed to leave the lounge area and all food and drink was brought to us, on paper plates and in plastic cups. The only safe place to sleep was on the floor.
P&O introduced the slightly bigger Leopard and Dragon but the services of both companies from Southampton were often cancelled. Later P&O would absorb Townsend Thoresen and move to Portsmouth.
Despite the problem of reliability, I often travelled by ferry from Southampton for a weekend in Cherbourg, Le Havre, Rouen or Paris. But if I wanted to go anywhere else the only way was via London and Dover or Folkestone. On Hants & Dorset we worked six days a week but every few weeks we had a weekend off. Because of the way the rota worked this would mean an afternoon finish on the Friday and a return to work on the Monday afternoon.
By travelling overnight I could be in Brussels by nine o'clock on Saturday morning and if I wanted to go further Amsterdam, Cologne and Strasbourg were easily reachable. I could then stay Saturday night and did not need to leave for home until late on Sunday, arriving home usually about eight on Monday morning. A few hours sleep and I was back at work again.
I sometimes caught a train called the Night Ferry. It ran from London Victoria to Paris via Dover and Dunkerque with one sleeping car going to Brussels, the only passenger train to cross the channel (freight wagons also did). I travelled in an ordinary seat and these coaches did not go on the ferry but the sleeping cars and luggage vans did. Getting the carriages on and off the ferry was very noisy. It was an expensive way to travel but there was no guarantee of any sleep.
One morning, after leaving Dover for London, the train stopped at a red signal. Hauled by a small electric loco and reportedly the heaviest passenger train in Britain, we were stuck. Eventually another train was brought up to push us. We passed through commuter stations with crowded platforms. On arrival at Victoria the announcement 'The delayed 22:00 service from Paris has arrived at platform 2' - welcome to Britain and British Rail.
At that time you could catch a train in Switzerland showing London on the destination board. Of course the train had to stop at the Channel coast but one day we would be able to go to London and catch a train to anywhere on the continent as easily as going anywhere in Britain. That's what they used to say.
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