The Big Trip, Day 15: Orleans to Calais, via a detour into Paris

Distance covered today: 261 miles

Total distance covered: 1883 miles

I have a nice night wandering round Orleans after my couple of drinks in L’Hendrix Pub. I may not be sorted in my head after all my recent trauma, but every so often I have to take a moment to remind myself what I’ve achieved here. I’m travelling! What I’ve always wanted to do! I’ve experienced great chunks of three countries in a couple of weeks (remember Andorra’s a country too)!

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No matter how hard I feel about myself, just looking at where I am is a great reminder that I’m not the hopeless, unimaginative failure I imagine myself to be in my lowest moments. This trip has been amazing, and I really don’t want to go.

But go I must (despite some tempting suggestions from Tom about staying in Barcelona and just doing my teaching qualification there). I can’t really leave a bungalow full of my stuff, plus a classic MX5, plus, y’know, my job, without actually doing something to clear up what I’m leaving behind. Tempting though it definitely is. I even considered just mailing my keys back and telling the lettings agent to do what they liked with my stuff. But hey, I might need the money I can get from selling it in my new life, however that goes.

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So today is the last leg of the journey in Europe, a 261 mile slog from Orleans to Calais, thence to park up and wait for the Eurotunnel nice and early on Sunday. Which also happens to be my birthday. It’ll be a quiet one – I’m meeting my dad, who’s flown over from the US where he’s lived since 1980, and my brother, and my half-sister, but have to be back in Stretham for a doctor’s appointment on Monday, so probably can’t stay all day.

Still, this will be an improvement on my birthday last year, just after my breakup, on which I went on a pub crawl for the guy who turned out to be my ex’s new partner, said pub crawl starting off at the pub where my ex and I met in 2000. It really couldn’t get any more depressing than that.

So, off to Calais it is, a four hour journey according to Google Maps. Add the standard half hour or more to factor in the van’s slowness, and we’re looking at about five hours. A journey this long would have fazed me not so long ago. After this trip, five hours? Eh, that’s average.

It is still a long trip, and I pause halfway through to not only fill the tank but my stomach too. This loss of appetite has been a real problem since the depression hit me fully a few weeks ago; it’s nice, as a guy in middle age, to be losing weight so rapidly, but I’m acutely aware that it’s not particularly sustainable. Tom was doing a good job of persuading me to eat, but I left Barcelona two days ago and haven’t touched food since.

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So I cram in the last banana he left me, and buy a baguette from the Aire du Services. It’s not great, more bread than anything else, but it’s food, and I probably need that right now.

Off again, and the road is taking me to Paris. On the way down, I’d been avoiding Paris, and toll roads in general, but that put a lot of time and distance onto the journey. This time I’m in a hurry, and figure I can afford a few tolls. Well, just about – between these three days I’ve probably spent well over 100 Euros on them.

And it is nice to see a bit of Paris. I like Paris a lot, but I never expected to be able to actually park the van there, so hadn’t really factored it in in. This time I don’t see very much of it, as most of the arterial roads run low down or in tunnels, but there is a magical moment when I find myself crossing the Seine (in very slow traffic), and can look down the river to see bridge after bridge, stretching off into the distance. One day I’ll visit the place again. When I have a lot more money – it’s not cheap.

After that, though, it’s just miles more of that featureless dual carriageway I’ve got so used to in France. One thing about this endless driving though, is that gives you loads of time in your head, to think. I’ve been doing that a lot, on this trip; some of it probably positive, a lot of it negative. Since Barcelona, though, I think it’s mostly been constructive.

And I’ve come to some useful realisations. I need to learn to like myself for who I am. I need to realise that I’m not too old to start again. I need to know that I’m not unattractive, and that, despite everything that’s wrong with Grindr, there are still people out there who fancy me and I fancy back – if only I have the courage to do something about it.

I need to know that comparing myself to Tom (or any of my other friends) is pointless – I can’t be him, he’s a different person. I can take inspiration from him, and from everyone else I know who I admire. But I’m not a failure for not being Tom. Or Barry. Or James. Or… well, the list is long.

Of course knowing all this isn’t the same as feeling it, or believing it. But, as the old cartoon used to say, “knowing is half the battle”. Maybe the time spent in my head will be a step towards winning that battle, even if not the war.

Oh, and fuck it, I’m gonna get a tattoo. Not all the headspace was as profound as the preceding paragraphs 🙂

My mind still buzzing, I roll into Calais. Park4Night has found a good place next to the town hall, but I don’t realise until later that that isn’t actually where I park. That’s fortunate though, as the town hall (it has a lovely tower) car park is full.

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This I discover walking to a nearby bar – well, I’m not going to go to a new place and not go out at least a bit. The nearest bar is the nautically, “aargh” themed Les Pirates, from which I’m writing. It’s gonna be an early start back to the country I really don’t want to return to tomorrow, so probably an early night too. But for now, I’m enjoying a surprisingly huge Hoegaarden for a mere 6 euros, in one of those glasses that always reminds me of a supersized water tumbler from a school dinner.

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Last night in Europe then. There’ll be more blogging – there’s three episodes of Doctor Who to look at, not to mention The Walking Dead. But this trip has been the most personal blogging I’ve ever done, and, if you can bear with me, there may be more like that as I try to move on. For now, all those of you who’ve borne with me through this long strange trip – thanks, knowing you’ve been there has been a real help. I raise a glass to you.

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