We could not go wrong. Only pounds 1 to travel across and we could buy all the duty-free we wanted, as well as taking orders for friends, with a small commission for ourselves. Unfortunately, most of them were going through a seasonally adjusted health drive, so all we secured was pounds 15 from a friend of Eddie's for 200 cigarettes. But we were not just going for a hit-and-run shopping trip; we left on Monday morning and were returning on Tuesday afternoon - plenty of time to experience France at a leisurely pace.
Disembarking at Dieppe, we headed straight for the bank to change our sterling at the best rate. But all the banks were closed so we ended up at the post office where we lost at least pounds 15 (the cigarette money) in the transaction and got an alarming seven francs to the pound.
Deciding it was time for a drink, we settled in a dimly lit bar full of lovely French girls playing pinball and fast waiters dashing back and forth. After a few overpriced Pernods we felt we ought to find somewhere further out of the town to eat, so we traipsed a couple of miles before finding a little bistro which was so far off the beaten track that we were the only customers. Eddie said it was the real thing, as there were paper cloths on the tables. I think the proprietor thought we were French as Eddie has a reasonable grasp of the language, and looked the part in the beret he had found earlier. I wore a fisherman's cap and a roll-neck, but Eddie later commented that it was more Dick Emery than Dieppe.
We ordered a wonderful three- course meal that included mussels, fish soup and delicious thick peppered steaks, washed down with the house wine and a drop of the local spirit, calvados. After paying the bill we decided to put aside the money needed for our hotel and the duty-free, before heading off to find the Dieppe equivalent of the Crazy Horse saloon. Imagine our horror, then, to find we had between us barely enough for a few drinks, let alone a hotel room. Stumbling out on to the rainy street and feeling the first chill of the night cold, we headed back to town and sought solace in the first bar we had been to, which was the only place open.
As we entered we could not help but overhear the conversations of the other patrons.
'Lennox Lewis will crucify Tyson]' said one.
'I'm really pissed on this French fizzy]' said another.
The bar was full of English compatriots and when we asked the barman where all the French were, he said they had gone to bed. We threw ourselves on the mercy of two Essex girls, hoping they might at least buy us a drink or toss us a blanket from their hotel window. They did neither. In a last-ditch effort to convince one of them of our possible fate of freezing to death, I started on an anecdote about how Jack Kerouac had come to France and spent the night on the church steps. 'Is he a friend of yours?' she asked.
A little later Eddie suggested we go to the fishermen's quarter, where we might find an all-night cafe and some benches to sleep on. We did not find any such thing and the church was locked, so we ended up clambering into a dry- docked boat called Prickly Heat. In the cramped cabin we tried to get comfortable in the tiny berths, and Eddie smoked his last Gauloise and bid me goodnight. I barely slept, reminded of the time as the church bell rang every half-hour, and although Eddie had found a sodden blanket to wrap up in he said he dreamt of eating horse steaks and was constantly awoken by my chattering teeth. Around five o'clock the cabin was invaded by a sickening smell of salty sea brine, and it was terrifyingly cold.
A couple of hours later we were thankfully sitting in a fishermen's cafe full of locals breakfasting on beer and baguettes. We ordered two coffees, and they were the finest coffees a man ever tasted. When we reached room temperature we headed back to town.
Oh, to be in Dieppe with next to no money and six hours to kill, deeply chilled and smelling horribly of sea stench. We thought we might put our last few francs down on a hot chocolate at a cafe where Oscar Wilde had reportedly written a poem, but it was far too expensive - no doubt due to its celebrity status. We chose instead to buy something to read from the wheelchair-bound bookseller who had set up his stall opposite. We settled for a couple of graphic novels of French prose and adjourned to the tatty departure lounge at the ferry terminal to read them. We were shocked to discover they were explicit sex comics, but Eddie said we could give them to his friend instead of the cigarettes.
Finally allowed to mount the steep ramp to the ferry, we clambered up behind a cluster of day- trippers with their bulging laundry bags; they muttered about how steep the ramp was and the 'terrible doggy doo all over the streets'.
On the ferry, to fight our dizziness due to furious hunger pangs, Eddie managed to steal some sandwiches from the buffet, and we got involved in the ferry quiz to try and win a bottle of wine but failed miserably. Dejected, we fell into a deep sleep, undisturbed by the ferry band playing Vangelis covers. Back in Newhaven we were searched at Customs, and felt extremely embarrassed when they found the lurid comics we had brought back.
But we are putting it all down to experience and when we go next year we will take a car, load it
up at the hypermarket and come straight back - none of this messing around with French culture.
Danny Danziger returns next week.Reuse content