It’s March 2021 almost exactly two years after we returned from our last adventure. It was just a few days after our return that Judy had her stroke and our world fell apart. But by January 2020 Judy had made a remarkable recovery and was free to do as she pleased. Wow and wow again. Scandinavia here we come, but first a trip to the UK to watch our eldest son Nik compete in the London Marathon.
The ferry was booked then in February we heard about this strong Flu epidemic that was escaping from China. The warnings seemed bad so we both decided that we wouldn’t mix with anyone until it all blew over. Well as we all now know it didn’t and it hasn’t and here we are another year later still in self-imposed lock-down. Our Ferries were cancelled, the London Marathon was cancelled and basically life as we had known it was cancelled.
Poor Jemima the Motorhome and Suzie the scooter have been quietly and patiently sitting doing absolutely nothing for two years and costing a great deal of € while doing so. Unfortunately there is nothing in France like SORN in the UK and full insurance which I believe also contains some form of contribution to the government so amounts to a similar cost as Road TAX and Insurance combined, just has to be paid.
Now finally at the end of March 2021 we are off again, unfortunately not south to sunnier climes or north to Scandinavia as we had planned but north to the UK to sort out our life going forward. This is a long account of our first outing for two years, it’s not meant as a political complaint but it is I’m afraid a criticism of how wrong the administration can get things.
The UK left the EU at the end of December 2020 and we had a big decision to make: Stay in France and take permanent residency with all it entails or return to the UK and re-settle there. We have loved our time in France and have made many friends but unfortunately, however hard we tried we have not mastered the language. We can get by in normal life with a bit of help from fluent French speaking friends occasionally but cannot hold a proper conversation. Things like moving home would only get worse as we got older so after a lot of thought we decided that “Old Age” would be much easier for us in the UK and the sooner we did it the better.
SO…., on 1st January 2021 the UK became independent and a “Third Country” so the freedom we had to roam Europe indefinitely was now limited to just 90 days in 180 days. The clock was reset on the first of January so as we were not going to become resident we had to leave by the end of March. But of course we would still travel abroad in our Motorhome within the limitations of the Schengen rules or perhaps an annual VISA may be the answer. We will find out after a while when all the politics and HooHa has settle down.
We had a letting house in France which provided a supply of Euros to pay the French bills which was a complication because it is not easy to get French tenants out midterm not that we wanted to because they were very nice people who looked after the property well. But out of the blue they gave notice at the end of November and we found a great French Agent who found three buyers within a week. We selected the one that had cash and quickly signed the first deed of sale. Unfortunately the buyer then became a problem but the sale did finally go through in the second week of March.
So now we had to concentrate on getting the Motorhome ready for the journey. Steve said the MOT was fine, due in August by which time we will be back in France. But he checked anyway and it was the car due in August, the Motorhome was due three days ago, whoops! As Jemima the Motorhome is a heavyweight (over 3.5 ton) it has to be done by the lorry testing station so we drove to Carcassonne in the car to make an appointment, the guy amazingly remembered Steve from last time and said, HELLO Mr Robinson in his only English then in French; OH, it’s urgent, I’ll do it tomorrow at 2pm! So a frantic afternoon emptying it and checking the lights, brakes etc. and fingers crossed during the test. It actually sailed through with just a couple of verbal comments but no advisories thank goodness. We can now travel to the UK and sort out his comments while there.
Just a few weeks before, the UK had changed the travel rules for everyone entering the UK from France. A Covid PCR test had to be negative and taken within 72 hours of the Plane, Train or ferry leaving France then we would have to quarantine in isolation for ten days and also pay for two more PCR tests to be done on day 2 and day 8 of the quarantine.
The house was on the market to be sold so we cleared it as much as possible for viewing and got the keys to the agent so he could do viewings while we were away. We booked the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven on the morning of the 24th March 2021 just two weeks after the MOT on Jemima. We checked with Kerry & Cheryl that we could park at their house near Eastbourne not far from Newhaven for at least the ten day quarantine period. We found that we could get a walk-in PCR test in the laboratory we use for blood tests etc. in Lezignan about 28km from home. We found out how to book the two paid for tests while we were in quarantine and we set about packing all our stuff and Steve’s book work and files so he could do all the end of year TAX stuff for France and the UK while away.
For a few weeks now Steve had been working on our telephone system at home because we would be away for much longer periods. He cancelled the land line and changed the 4G broadband provider to be data and telephone so as to replace the home phone. The idea was that the modem could be moved to the motorhome while we were away and with the addition of a special rooftop antenna which he would fit when we were in the UK it would work exactly the same while touring. The package included calls to and from the UK but a slightly lower amount of data while not in France. But we usually use less data while away anyway.
Finally, the night before we intended to travel we left home to park up for the night a few miles away so we were ready for a quick early start in the morning to get to the laboratory for our first COVID tests as soon as they started, it was a simple system and tests were done very quickly and painlessly. I really didn’t realise that a stick could go quite so far up your nose! But not sure of the next ones that we have to do ourselves. We were on our way by 09h30 with the promise that the results would be in our online account after lunch. So without too much risk as we had been isolating as best we could for months but of course a little trepidation in case of a false positive, we set off on our 1,000km journey to the ferry at Dieppe which has to be boarded within 72 hours of the test being done. Just after 2pm the phone pinged to say that something had arrived so we pulled in to the next services to put our minds at rest. Two NEGATIVE results had appeared in our account so pressure is off a bit, thank goodness, we just have to get to Dieppe within the 72 hours from the tests.
We stopped for the first night in a forest just outside Vierzon which was about two thirds of the journey done. We had a meal then the problems started, booking the day 2 & day 8 COVID tests for the UK while we would be quarantining on the drive at our sons house. Steve booked Judy’s first, a bit of a quirky form but it went through ok at £190 so a little cheaper than the amazing £210 we had been expecting. Steve then immediately tried to book his own and the payment was declined. Perhaps they don’t allow two tests on the same card so tried another card and that was declined so went through all our cards with different banks and all were declined. The security certificate was fine so had some scam merchants accessed this system? Very worrying and panic mode was now setting in as there was very little margin for error possible in our journey. As it was now past midnight we decided to leave it till the morning. Not a good night’s sleep obviously.
In the morning Steve tried again and the cards were again declined. Perhaps the internet is not strong enough. Although the new system was working really well. The router was showing 4 bars with full 4G-LTE. So we motored on till about lunchtime when we found a Brico Depot and in their car park were getting a full 5 bars and 60 mb/s download and upload from the router even without the rooftop antenna Steve was going to fit, just as good as at home. Steve had spent a lot of time setting it all up to get this home quality internet in the Motorhome just to be sure that all this could be done on route. He tried phoning the company via the router to find out what was going wrong because a WhatsApp support message sent the previous evening had not been answered. But there was just a “mailbox full” message on the phone so their Customer Service was zero, what a mess. Now in total panic as there is a 48 hour time limit for booking these tests. He phoned the bank in the UK and they said there was no problem with our cards and no requests for payment had been made other than the first, which was a great relief that it was not a scam. In desperation Steve phoned our son via WhatsApp and asked him to try with his card from the UK, he got declined as well so it must be the testing company with a cobbled together payment system on their website. So he tried a different company and card was declined again. Then another company and this time it came back as “processing error please submit again later” message, which was better than the others and just needed the button pressed again and again rather than filling out the whole form. Finally after about ten tries suddenly a green tick appeared with a successful message. Phew, the total meltdown finally started easing so another cup of coffee to relax before heading on. But first a “Passenger Information Form” had to be filled in for each of us online, giving the invoice numbers of the Covid tests and contact numbers and where we would be in quarantine. What people who do not have internet and understand the technology would do I really do not know. However we could now continue our journey, but what was this morning, plenty of time to do the journey, now was getting very tight and we now ran into rush-hour jams in Rouen which delayed us quite a bit more. The journey was taking us through two RED ZONE departments where we were not legally allowed to stop and there was a curfew from 7pm when we were not allowed to travel at all!
We finally made it to the Auchan Supermarket in Dieppe at 6pm with just time to fill with gas and diesel while keeping a distance from others and wearing a double mask and gloves. Then drive to where we hoped to park for the night which Steve had found on a Motorhome parking app, beside a cemetery about 5 km from the port. We arrived at 3 minutes to 7pm and the place thankfully seemed good to stay the night.
The stress and hard driving had taken its toll on Steve and the chronic Sciatica he was suffering from did not now allow him to sleep laying down, so he spent most of the night sat up in the driving seat freezing but at least we were nearly at the port.
The ferry was at 11am so we arrived early and were first in the queue. The check-in was easy with just a check of the COVID tests from yesterday morning and an additional “on our honour” form to declare that we had not met up with anybody in recent days or en-route where we could have contracted the virus. The Duane however were a nightmare, not distancing or wearing masks properly and making us stand outside while one searched the van unsupervised while the other who looked about seven foot tall, stood in front of us with his hand on his gun, very intimidating. Then the one doing the search, she wanted to go through Judy’s handbag but at least she asked first. She was checking for cash and touching everything with total disregard then she demanded to see Steve’s wallet totally obsessed that we must have more cash as we’re only allowed to export less than 10,000 euros! Steve only had a €50 note and Judy had emptied her wallet before we left. She was only wearing cotton gloves which she could have been touching anything with, not good practice at all. All absolutely crazy as just a couple of weeks before we had transmitted the proceeds from the sale of a house to the UK with no problems at all.
Finally on to the ferry with hardly any passengers and a four hour cruise on a millpond sea. Then on to our son’s house for our ten day quarantine in the Motorhome.
Thankfully Judy’s testing kit had actually arrived before us with both test kits in the same envelope. Steve received an email just after we arrived that his will arrive the following day by DHL as arrival day is Day-0 that will be on time.
Day-2 testing day. At about 10 am we had a telephone call from “Public Health” or whoever, they gabbled it, wanting to know personal information and couldn’t understand that we were not prepared to give out personal information unless they could prove who they were. Finally he relented and gave out one of the numbers in Steve’s date of birth in return for Steve giving the other. This happened every day with the same fight each time. Whoever sets these things up really has no idea of security. Finally on day 6 I think, a policeman was knocking on the door in the dark at 8:30 in the evening, while Steve was in the shower so had to talk to him while dripping. He was very nice and had obviously had the same story from everybody and promised to feed the information back. Which he may have done because the calls stopped.
We had already checked online that there was a special priority post box just about 100 yards away and our daughter-in-law had physically checked so testing began at midday. Judy had to watch a video and activate her day-2 kit online first which it failed to do so we had to contact them via live chat to be given a different pin number and then it activated. She managed the test with a bit of gagging but all sealed up in the pre-paid posting envelope.
Steve had only received the day-2 kit which was a bit more involved. First he had to watch an online video which had a tick box after it to prove he had watched it, then he had to film himself with the iPad while doing the test with his name and bar-code number attached to his chest to show that the test had been done properly. Then press the button to submit the video. The submission icon just kept revolving and never said submitted properly. So an email to the company to check was answered the following day; “sorry, yes video OK”. But they were now in the post box and on their way to the laboratory.
48 hours later Steve received a negative result certificate but Judy received nothing and no answer to emails or online chat. So what is going on? It all seems to be set up to create stress.
Steve’s Day-8 test kit arrived by DHL on day 7 so on day 8 we did it all again. But just to be sure Judy filmed him with the phone this time. Just as well because Steve didn’t notice that the iPad hadn’t started recording this time so had to send the phone video to a WhatsApp address.
Finally on day ten afternoon both certificates arrived, NEGATIVE thank goodness, but what a performance.
While we were in Quarantine our daughter-in-law registered us temporally with their GP, firstly so that Steve could get some more medication for the incredibly debilitating Sciatica and also could register for the Covid Vaccine. Judy had both injections in France but Steve a few years younger was not eligible there. But he could only register with a NHS number, the ones on our health cards were of the wrong format but he found a website where he could check and we had been issued with new ten digit numbers by the GP’s surgery. So a quick call to 119 and he was firmly told that he could not register until out of quarantine with the two negative tests.
Sunday 4th April was our first day of freedom but care was required as Steve was not vaccinated. But it was a lovely sunny day so we were able to sit outside at a distance having tea-n-cake and a great chat with the family.
A visit to the 119 website was disappointing because although the NHS database had Steve’s NHS number, 119 didn’t and a telephone call was just as fruitless. They were just not migrating the information.
Steve had requested a telephone consultation with a doctor and he called at 8:30 in the evening was very thorough spending about 40 minutes on the phone and fully understood the pain as he had suffered a lot with sciatica himself. We picked up the prescription the next day and for the first time Steve had a pain free night then on Thursday he had a call from the Vaccination Centre inviting him for the Jab on Saturday morning, wonderful
Great, so hopefully this awful saga is now over and we can continue our trip looking around the country for where we would like to live.
Sorry if this post is a bit of a rant, but this blog is supposed to be about our travels both good and bad. I know care has to be taken and people persuaded to be careful because the spread of this virus has to be stopped, but really it could have been set up better without it feeling like people were profiteering and the amount of stress caused when trying to do things correctly was just unnecessary.
So….. till next time and hopefully better travels.