Driving abroad? First you must fill your boot

At Dover, signs warn of dire mistreatment at the hands of foreign police if you don't have the correct things
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The Independent Online

Desperate to avoid the "Crimbo limbo" period, we made a last-minute family decision to head for the Alps for a couple of days' skiing. If you read the news, then you'd assume we were soft in the head what with there supposedly being no snow and 30-mile traffic jams. Anything however, was better than hanging around at home watching the Christmas tree start to rot while munching on long-dead turkey. We briefly considered taking Wilbur, our kunekune pig, with us but felt that he might become something of a boar on a long trip.

So, we set off the next morning, pigless and fancy free. Confidence and spirits were high. I tapped in our destination co-ordinates but soon had to resort to old-school maps as the in-car satnav appeared to have gone over to Ukip and refused to acknowledge the existence of France.

It's been a while since I've been to Dover, and it turned out that the shops have a new trick to get you spending. Everywhere you look, there are signs that purport to be official, warning of the dire mistreatment that you will face at the hands of foreign police if you don't have the correct things in your car. This list is pretty sizeable. The posters tell you that you need a red warning triangle, fluorescent jacket, first-aid kit, spare bulbs for your headlights, some sticky things with which to change your headlight beam, a fire extinguisher, a sign telling people what country you are from, a breathalyser kit … I was going to be bankrupted before I left the country. I find it hard to believe that we've all managed to drive around Europe without most of these things for so long. How have we survived and why is it suddenly de rigueur? The shelves of the ferry terminal shops were almost bare as panicked travellers stocked up.

I took my chances and bought only a coffee despite the woman behind the till warning me of the terrible risk I was taking. I arrived in the Alps, having been left alone by the gendarmes, to find tons of snow and hundreds of Brits longing to tell me exactly how long they'd been stuck in traffic for.

"We took 26 hours to get from Geneva; poor Pinocchio had to defecate on the side of the road …" said one. "We turned off at a village and spent the night in a lycée, and there were no tea-making facilities …" said another. What really seemed to annoy them, however, was that the French transport minister blamed the jams on "unprepared British drivers".

It seems the list of things we have to buy at Dover to be legal on French roads is not enough. Next year it will doubtless increase to include: snow chains, parachute, life-jacket, one-man snowmobile, garlic crusher, a St Bernard, proper pillows, and a man called Geoff who will sit next to you at every après-ski bar and waffle loudly about his "amaaaazing" descent through the trees while dressed as a dinosaur.

It's definitely time to invest in cross-channel retail ….

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