The colourful banners at the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais spell out the words Treat Shop Relax Refresh Eat. But it would be more truthful if they said Queue Panic Scream Scavenge Fight to the Death.
For reasons best known to the French authorities, there is only one restaurant inside the Eurotunnel building at Calais and that is a small Burger King.
Now, consider that you have hundreds of hungry travellers arriving in this place, and all of them have either grown used to excellent French food during a holiday, or they are habitually accustomed to it as standard because they are French.
Now add to that the fact that, due to heightened security, there are three-hour delays to all departures. Now add to that the fact that there is no air-conditioning, for unexplained reasons. Perhaps they decided to shut off both the food and the cool air supply because it was a waste of money making us comfortable or happy now we were leaving. Who knows?
All that is certain is that the Eurotunnel Burger King, with its two frazzled staff members and queues snaking backwards for miles, has become a refugee reception centre.
‘Have we taken a wrong turn? Is this the Jungle?’ I asked the builder boyfriend, as we stood open-mouthed in the doorway. But in truth, this was wishful thinking. The migrant reception centre would have offered us better service. The aid agencies would have taken pity on us and fed us. In the departure lounge of the Eurotunnel terminal there was no such compassion — only sweaty, yelling, marauding tourists.
The only ray of hope was a small sandwich counter next to Burger King which was doling out emergency pizzas. This, while laudable, produced mass hysteria. Desperate, starving, sunburned people were screaming at the counter and behind the counter red-faced women were screaming back — screaming the names of pizzas but also obscenities.
‘Margheritaaaaaaaah!’ shouted one of the women, as a seething mass of passengers waved their receipts and shouted back ‘Where’s my pepperoni?’ or ‘I ordered the chicken special!’ And then a woman pushed forward through the surging crowd, almost getting herself crushed to death in the process, waving a tattered receipt and squealing: ‘Margherita! That’s mine!’
And the crowd reluctantly parted and allowed the poor bedraggled soul to snatch the greasy pizza box and scuttle away to sit outside on a wooden bench and push the contents into her mouth with her bare hands.
After initially wanting a burger, the builder boyfriend agreed that we should try for two pizzas. I would queue while he stood with the spaniel outside.
‘Vegetariennnnnne Speciaaaaaaaaaaalayyyyy!’ shouted one of the women, her eyes bulging like they were going to burst out of her head. A man ran forward, snatched it and hurried away, lifting the lid as he ran and sticking his face into the box to eat the contents like a dog.
‘Can I order?’ I asked. She just stared, bug-eyed, so I said: ‘One pepperoni, one vegetarian special.’
She responded by grabbing two pizza bases and making what I had said in five seconds flat, one hand sprinkling cheese on both bases, the other arranging pepperoni pieces on one and peppers on another. I have never seen anything like it. As she sprinkled, she looked over her shoulder at me and barked, ‘Pay at counter. Come back half hour.’
At the counter, the boy couldn’t make the card machine work so panic was breaking out there too. When it came to me, the machine did work, bizarrely. The crowds surged at me, looking like they were going to rip my card from my hands so I grabbed the receipt and hurried back outside.
At the car, we fed Cydney a tin of dog food which made the builder salivate. After ten minutes, he insisted on going back. Half an hour later, he wandered dazedly towards me bearing two pizza boxes: ‘It was terrible. There was a man who had ordered the chicken special but they gave it to me. Then they gave him my pepperoni. When we told them they had got it the wrong way round they took them back. In the end, we had to take the wrong pizzas and swap them outside.’
‘Next time, we head straight for the aid agency tents,’ I said as we sat at a picnic table next to a northern couple eating Burger Kings for which, they revealed nonchalantly, they had missed ten departure slots. ‘I don’t know what train we’re on now, do you, Malcolm?’ she said, very vaguely, as if mesmerised. ‘No, love, I don’t,’ he said, glancing at the departure board as he pushed more burger into his mouth. ‘Mwarg, mwang on …misn’t that mours mwoarding mnow?’ ‘Oh dear, we’ve missed another one,’ she said, nibbling a chip philosophically.