Living on a campsite- a n00b's guide

Last time I checked, I've been living on this campsite for nearly four months with a potential leaving date from this park in mid September.

I am housed- and I use that term loosely- in an ex-customer tent that I'm sure has seen better seasons, on a patch of land affectionately often referred to as 'the homeless camp'. Our live area is shared by sixteen people, all couriers from three different companies, and the entire experience is not unlike living in an elongated episode of Big Brother.

Of course, this is my very first season as a courier, and unlike my neighbour Martin who boasts five seasons under his belt as well as a flat screen telly with satellite channels in his tent, I am, or at least was, completely inexperienced in the ways of packing to survive in such weird conditions. 

Therefore, I'd like to offer you the wise words that I needed myself back when I was informed one Saturday morning in April that I'd be flying out the following day.

Things you need:
  • Wellies;
  • Long socks;
  • A good hoodie;
  • Toenail clippers;
  • Headphones;
  • Nail varnish (for toes only!);
  • Hardcore flip-flops;
  • A long cardigan which will become your coat/bathrobe;
  • A Kindle.


Things you don't:
  • Nice shoes;
  • False eyelashes;
  • Books;
  • Anything more than a basic wardrobe of five garments- which you will use for work.


Things to expect:
  • Kiss goodbye to lie-ins;
  • Having little to no privacy;
  • Being able to hear your neighbours snore...
  • ...And have sex
  • Hearing the hokey cokey and Gangnam Style at noon and earlier on a daily basis.


Things you must do:
  • Make some time to spend alone;
  • Keep your knickers on (really? Must I explain this one? Your mother taught you better than that!);
  • Do your dish and clothes washing regularly;
  • Try not to get drunk and loud.

In short, you live on a campsite, and every single day you will feel unclean and grimy. Even after you've stepped out of the shower. It's so freaking hot that even your deodorant will slide off during application and you'll spend the summer looking like a greased up hippo. Thing is though, you don't realise how lucky you'll be; you're gonna meet some fantastic people, some interesting tourists and have lots and lots of fun. Even when it rains and your tent floods - you'll be glad you've took the plunge and gone to see some of the world, I promise.

Bonjour Monsieur! Parlez vous Anglaise?

I'm flying back to France on Wednesday morning, after having to return home for a doctor's appointment, and will be flying to Paris to negotiate my way way across the country by rail before returning to my live tent.

When I first made this journey from where I live in a tent not for from the picturesque town of Pierrfitte-sur-Seine, despite living in the country for nearly three months, my knowledge of their mother tongue was still atrocious. I had genuinely tried, and failed to master the language before my
Still awake...vaguely...
departure, but when I got stationed at the campsite, I discovered that the vast majority of customers were Dutch, and after that English. The few French that did come and stay spoke no English, but it's nothing that can't be conveyed after a few awkward minutes of using facial expressions and hand signals to play the lost-in-translation version of Charades.

Katrina, who lives in the tent opposite mine had recently had her car delivered from the UK, and together with Emily, they gave me a lift to Saubris, which was the nearest town with a reasonably large railway station. Katrina's French is a lot better than mine, which was excellent as outside of the campsite as hardly any of the locals could muster English.

The lady behind the glass in the ticket office handed the tickets over, and spoke very quickly to us in words to fast for us to translate and understand- it was only when we were stood on the platform that we worked out that what she was trying to explain was that the tickets were not for a direct route; I'd rock up at the Paris Austerlitz railway station, and would have to take some kind of other train (we thought a sky train or Metro) to Du Nord, a different station altogether in another part of the city centre.

The girls bid me farewell, and I climbed aboard the first of many modes of transport. Now back at home, I love travelling on the train; I had always planned to go and work on the railways should radio and media not work out, and I consider myself a reasonably seasoned rail traveller, but nothing prepared me for how lush French trains are! The carriages were clean, each seat had a plug so you could charge your mobile up mid-journey, making noise and having telephone conversations are banned activities- it was delightful and not unlike that old British Rail advert where a couple enjoying a cross-country jaunt played chess.

When I arrive at Austerlitz, my luggage (which ended up clocking in at over 30 kilo) was beginning to feel like a dead weight and it was all I could do to convince myself not to torch everything I owned in the car park so I didn't have to carry it any more. The station was pretty huge, and try as I might, I couldn't work out where I was supposed to go.

Again, I'm a seasoned traveller, and in theory, all railway stations are essentially the same deal- look for big light-up board with departures on it, look up your destination, find platform number and time, go and sit on bench and wait for train. Except this place was heaving with people from every walk of life, all jostling for some floor space and I was dragging the equivalent of a dead body behind me and looking every part the gormless tourist. And I hate falling into that trap when I'm travelling alone.

Looking like an obvious tourist is what gets you mugged, ripped off and conned, whereas a more seasoned traveller looks like a local, so in theory, until you open your mouth, passers-by would regard you as local and leave you alone (obviously, playing this card in Thailand a few years ago was a little more difficult, but you get the idea behind my theory).

Anyway, after dragging my luggage to the departure board, then to all of the different platforms and downstairs to the subway, desperately trying to ascertain where I was supposed to be going, I was knackered. I decided the best course of action was to stop and have a fag outside (I know, I'm smoking again, I'm sorry) and take stock for a few minutes.

On the way outside, I spied an information booth and joined the queue. Perhaps the staff would be able to understand my backwards French skillz and direct me to my next destination? A bloke in a railway uniform came over and uttered some French words.

'Bonjour, Monsieur!' I got my tickets out of my pocket. 'Parlez vous Anglais?'
'A little,' He replied, glaring at me like stood on his toes or something.
It's hard not to sound like a gormless tourist at this moment when I think I'm sounding a bit like Enchanted, when Giselle turned up in New York and was trying to explain to a homeless dude how she needed to get home. 'I'm trying to get to Gare du Nord, where do I go?'
'You need the red line, 5,' he replied, and pointed down the platform. 
'And where's that? Downstairs?'
'Upstairs,'
I glanced at where he was pointing, and when I looked back to ask more, he'd already walked off into the crowd. Not exactly the assistance I was looking for, but hey, it's better than nowt. Now let's get back to going for that fag and then we'll work out where we're going.

Outside Austerlitz, it's sheeting it down, and everyone is huddled in the doorways trying to avoid the rain. I spark up and as I lean against my luggage and gaze across the city, I can see trains on high bridges entering the station I'm stood in. A good sign! All we need to do is to find the platforms for the sky trains and then I get to Gare du Nord and head towards Charles De Gaulle airport from there.

I finish my cig and drag my luggage back inside, on a mission to find steps, a lift or anything which will take me upstairs to find red line 5, whatever that is. As I'm being jostled through the crowds, I notice a man who was stood near me outside smoking, and who now keeps banging into me. I wouldn't be worried but he looks like a stereotypical mugger. In fact, it looks like he graduated with honours from the School of Mugging and has a uniform to match. Not being funny or owt, but if your chosen career is as a mugger, it might help you if you didn't look so obvious. Seriously, he looked like he'd walked off the set of The Equalizer and at any point, all the strip lighting would flash and go out.

I clocked Johnny Mugger and promptly lost him in the crowds before wandering about looking for an upstairs. Problem was, when I looked up, there didn't actually appear to be another floor. I spent half an hour looking for one and gave up.

Then I saw the sign for a taxi rank.

I headed outside and joined the queue of locals awaiting cabs. After ten minutes, I was next in the queue, stood on tiptoe eagerly waiting for my carriage to appear from a side street. A man approached the elderly couple behind me and spoke a lot of crazy French, and then gesticulated to me and repeated himself.

'Parlez vous Anglais?' (This is what every conversation of mine with locals begins with).
'Where you go Lady?' Crazy (and smelly) French dude barks at me.
'Urm...Du Nord,'
'FUCKING NORD! FUCK NORD!' He walks away, all crazy and me and the elderly couple just pull bemused expressions.

'You understand English?' Asks the hubby.
'Yeah,'
'He is...I don't know how to say in English....he is not right. He is not proper taxi....he take you...how they say? All around?'
'Round the houses- or as we would say 'he's a rip off merchant','
'Yes, that!' Laughed the couple. They give me a map of France and help me into a proper licensed cab. As I'm driven off, I'm beginning to get the feeling that it's not the locals of Paris that are the problem, it's the people working or in some kind of uniform.

.....

Back on the campsite, Bill and Christine, who are couriers for another company, had recently spent the evening having dinner in a restaurant in a nearby village. Bill & Christine are Scottish, and their accent is the type that has a lovely 'burr' to it. Anyway, they'd sat at the table and the waiter approaches to take their order. Bill is not too shabby at his French skillz, and reels off a few dishes. They sit and wait, and before long, the waiter approaches the table, flinging the food down and walking off. When they recounted this story to me, Christine had mimed the stroppy waiter, and I'd said how surprised I was that they'd paid for it. Even I- who is too polite to complain in restaurants at the best of times- would've said something.

A week or two previous to this, the weather had been hot and dry, and at one point in the direct sunlight, I could be found try to push a remoke with three full gas bottles in it up a slope. I was shattered, and the heat was making every physical task ten times harder. I managed to get the remoke up the slope, and was pushing it over a heavy gravel path to the Safari Tents.

Outside the gateway to that area of the park, the gardeners for the campsite were planting flowers is huge ornamental pots. Fabienne (or at least I think that's his name- they all look like bloody supermodels there) sees me, nearly horizontal and pushing this remoke with all my might, jumps in his golf buggy and reverses down the path towards me.

He gets out, and laughs and says some more crazy French. We quickly establish he speaks no English whatsoever. Zilch. Nada. Regardless, he takes my remoke, leans out of the buggy and drags it across the park to the Safari Tent whilst I walk (read this 'as crawl in the heat like a desert survivor').

When we rock up at Safari, he gets out and carries the damn gas bottles to each unit like a boss. Like they were nothing, and like he was going to spend the rest of the afternoon suggestively draped across a rockery rubbing his nipples with a can of Diet Coke.

Then he buggers off in his golf buggy. Didn't speak a damned word of the Queens, doesn't work with me and is just some freelance gardener that obviously spotted how flammable gingers in the sun can be.

....

My taxi driver to the next railway station is some black guy who looks like an aftershave model. 
'Parlez vous Anglais?'
'Non,'
Cool. a silent journey.

Looking at Paris out of the taxi window, we pull up at some lights and I can gaze into a bar on a busy street. Outside, beautiful couples are sitting with beers and bags of shopping and inside there's a massive television showing a bloke with blonde hair whom I vaguely recognise. It's cropped close to his head and he's wearing a denim jacket and walking through a shopping centre, which looks old somehow....  OMG it's Matt Goss! There's a bar showing 80s pop videos and I'm not in it, giving it death on the tables.
The *uniformed* People are the problem!
Got to Gare Du Nord, and by now I'm knackered. The 30+ kilos of luggage feel like I'm dragging a family of corpses behind me, and I'm struggling to negotiate the labyrinth of gates and barriers. 

As I'm dragging my case down an escalator, I felt it lift up and looked behind me to see the biggest man I've ever seen in my life.

He was well over six foot. In fact, he may have even been a giant. Who ever he was, he smiled, lifted up all of my luggage and carried it for me to the platform before wishing me 'au revoir' and disappearing into the crowds. I tried to say 'Thanks so much mate!' but he didn't hear me. Fortunately, a little old man did.

'Bonjour English! You go on this train to airport!' He dragged my case to a bench on the platform. 'You wait here! Next train come, it for you to Charles du Gaulle!'

What a happy little chappy he was, bless him.

The rest of the journey, which was filled with automatic train rides around Charles du Gaulle (that airport is a city in itself) and of course my flight back to Manchester were relatively straightforward. Imagine my surprise then, when a couple of days later, I read online that the people of France have been told to be more friendly towards gormless tourists such as myself.

The elderly couple who gave me the map, the little old bloke and the big black guy who helped me on the platform? They were all grand and couldn't have done more to help. But the man from the Information Booth at Austerlitz- the man with a uniform on and a name tag? He was a proper tool.

You see, it's not the people of France that are the problem....it's the ones who are supposed to help you that don't.

Documentary time again - Talhotblonde


Before I left for France and was awaiting my imminent departure, I had a Netflix account, which was abused every day as my penchant for gritty documentaries took hold. Unlike Dear Zachary, TalhotBlonde is not a self-contained wormhole, and should you have time on your hands, as I very often do- it would be very tempting to get online to seek out the whereabouts of the remaining characters at the end of this docu. 

Again, it's a tale of crime but this time love is involved- well, if you can call it that. Again, no spoilers, but it's another one worth watching with your phone turned off and the curtains drawn. And I'll warn you now that some of the chat logs that are narrated aren't just risque- they're so cheesy they made me shudder and cringe. Be warned.