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)

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
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

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments