French cheers, British froideur: Hester Lacey joins the Channel Tunnel celebrations in Calais

'IT'S ALL a bit crazy,' Georges, the taxi-driver, admitted cheerfully. 'We all know no one will be using the tunnel until September or October, when the tourists will already have come and gone. But the celebrations have been planned - for years. And the French love celebrating. I saw the Queen on TV today. Magnificent, in magenta, with a lovely hat.'

Georges has had an excellent week. Calais has just completed seven days of events to mark the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel, culminating in firework displays and pageants. 'Just look at all this,' he said gleefully, surveying with satisfaction Friday night's nose-to- tail traffic jam in the village of Coquelles, just outside Calais, site of the tunnel terminus. 'Normally there's no one here.'

Van-loads of police were attempting to keep the traffic moving, as people poured into Coquelles to see the huge firework display.

The evening was only slightly marred when the free coaches that had ferried sightseers from the centre of Calais failed to return on schedule to pick them up. 'If this is European co-operation you can stuff it,' muttered one elderly man.

Later in the town centre bar Le Folkestone, the mood was upbeat. 'We are far more enthusiastic about the tunnel than you are,' said Paul a construction worker, accusingly. 'The British are only interested in keeping themselves to themselves. In France the whole country is keen. My sister's kids in the Dordogne have all been doing projects on it at school.' But surely the celebrations are a bit premature? 'No. I worked on the site; it's true the work was held up but we should tell the world we're proud of our achievement.'

Unemployment in Calais fell from nearly 20 per cent of the 75,000 inhabitants to 13.5 per cent when work started on the tunnel, but is already beginning to creep up again. The Mayor of Calais, Jean-Jacques Barthe, one of the last remaining Communist mayors in France, has cast doubts on the project's long-term effectiveness as an economic boost to the region. But Paul is optimistic: 'There's still work around.'

His friend Thierry is unmoved. 'British trippers won't change. They'll drive over, load their cars up with the cheapest stuff they can find and drive home again. They won't come into my shop because it's not on one of the main streets. Anyway,' he added morosely, 'it's an ironmonger and garden supplies shop and holidaymakers don't generally want buckets and lawnmowers. I couldn't care less about the tunnel and I'm not celebrating. I'm out for a drink, that's all.'

In the shops of Calais, visitors can already stock up on tunnel memorabilia, even though they can't go through it yet. There are mugs and commemorative medals and there is even an enormous tunnel cake, made of choux buns and nougat, with miniature trains running on chocolate tracks.

The streets are unglamorous; 20 per cent of the town's business comes from English tourists - eight million visitors arrive by ferry every year, but about 40 per cent of them stay less than three days.

'If the tunnel brings in even more English, it's great with me,' said Norbert, who runs a thriving pizzeria. 'I don't care if they stay three hours, three days or three weeks as long as they eat pizza. We like you, and we like your money, too. Any new developments in the region can only be good.'

Calais has benefited from heavy government spending on new ways to link it to the rest of France; isolation is one reason why the region has been depressed and has had an 'assisted area' status for many years. A giant freight terminal under construction aims to boost the area further. 'We shall certainly be having a little celebration tonight,' said Patric, a teacher, who was stocking up on wine and nibbles in the supermarket on Saturday morning; a copy of the local paper had the headline 'British pragmatism and French elan have made a miracle.'

'While it's important to realise our problems can't be solved overnight, the tunnel has already brought the region into international focus. The govt government has invested so much already that they are sure to keep supporting us. It's so important for the kids. It's heart-breaking teaching them when you know so many will end up on the dole.'

The gaggle of scruffy teenagers hanging about on the steps of the town's theatre, in front of the tourist desk (closed) were completely indifferent. Are they glad of closer links with England? 'We don't mind. It's boring.'

At the other end of the tunnel, in Folkestone, there was not so much boredom as disinterest.

The Celebration 94 Carnival Day was a somewhat muted affair, though large numbers turned out to see the fireworks and hear an orchestral concert. Rob Low, assistant manager at the East Kent Arms said custom had been pretty much as normal: 'We've had a few more come in and disappear like they usually do. It could have been better than it was.'

Stuart Whitton, publican at The Ship in Sandgate was more enthusiastic. 'I've seen the tunnel being built from start to finish. In fact, it was pretty much built from here]'.

If the French are generally more enthusiastic about the tunnel than the British, they are also braver about it. No one in Calais expressed any fears about using it. 'French engineers were involved, so of course it's quite safe,' said one old lady trustingly.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions