British miss chance to storm blockades

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THE MAN in the queue for the duty-free with the beer-belly and the Op Art shellsuit was voicing his Blitz spirit: 'Bugger the lorry drivers. I've booked a holiday - I'm going on holiday.'

Those on board yesterday's 10.30am sailing of the Pride of Calais from Dover to Calais seemed to be in no mood to be put off by threats of lorry blockades. The ship was packed with travellers and storm-trooping parties of rampant schoolchildren.

The steward in the club-class lounge said that after a quiet week business had come back with a bang. 'They've been waiting and waiting, I reckon. Now they've had the word it's ending - they're off.'

At the information office an elderly gentleman anxiously sought the latest information about the lorry driver situation. 'Do you know where the blockades are?'

'What we do know,' said the woman behind the counter, '. . . what we do know . . . we don't know where they are.'

'There are blockades, then?' asked the man.

'That's what we don't know,' said the woman.

A Cornishman and his wife, setting out for a camping holiday in Gascony, revealed that they were veterans of several industrial disputes. 'We got stuck for 12 hours by that P & O strike a few years ago. And the fishermen's blockade of Calais; we were waiting there - how long?'

'Three bloody days,' said his wife. 'We slept in the bloody car.'

'And the French Sealink strike last year.'

'That was only six bloody hours,' said his wife.

What the French lorry drivers could not have guessed is that the British enjoy having their holidays disrupted by a good industrial dispute. A family I later met at the Calais ferry terminal told me they had been delayed outside Lyons. 'It wasn't bad really - only 10 hours.'

As we approached Calais, the captain told us 'the blockages have been removed', as if he were describing successful intestinal surgery. There were discernible signs of disappointment among the passengers now denied their moment of lorry-strike drama.

On the 160 miles from Calais to Paris I searched for 'blockages'. Lorry drivers at service stations ruefully admitted the barricades had now all melted away - north of Paris, at least.

The shelves of the hypermarkets are now fully stocked again; filling stations now have petrol to sell. It's really all finished, then?' I asked a cashier at a service station near Lille. 'Yes . . . But you should have been here three days ago - it was very different,' he said. 'It was truly awful.'

The quarter-of-a-million British travellers who set out across the Channel this weekend will no doubt be sorry they missed it all.