Convoy veteran Tony King reflects on the latest CamCRAG convoy to Calais.
If you belong to a group with ‘Convoy’ in its name I suppose it is reasonable to expect an open road, grizzled unshaven guys with sunburnt arms, ‘Jolene’ on the radio, dust, diesel fumes, Yorkie bars, cops looking cool in shades astride their Harley-Davidsons. The Whole Experience. I guess this is what Mark had in mind when, with a grin, he handed me a real old-fashioned walkie-talkie when we met up at the start of the CamCRAG September convoy to Calais.
I’ve driven to Calais many times on CamCRAG convoys, but never, literally, in a Convoy; so when Mark suggested we travel together I loved the idea: This could be a CamCRAG first. Our two cars (well, my Golf and Mark’s testosterone-fuelled 4×4 beast) and our volunteer passengers met up at 4pm on Friday and, after a brief photography and walkie-talkie handing-over ceremony, we took off for Calais.
I’ve stuck to the same routine every single trip. Up Barton road to the M11; a bit of congestion until the Duxford exit; then a clear run – M11, M25, M20 – to the Eurotunnel at Folkestone and a total journey time of exactly two hours. So, when an hour later, we were still stuck in a traffic jam on the M25, not even at the Dartford crossing. Well, even the best laid plans.
When you volunteer in Calais you get very close to something enormous, and very hard to comprehend: the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war. It’s tough for me as an old hand to make the transition from lovely safe Cambridge to the front line of volunteering – so it can be quite disorientating for people coming for the first time. So I try and stick to a routine – get to Calais quickly via Eurotunnel, a quick brush-up at our lovely, friendly hostel in Calais, and then get to know our fellow volunteers over a beer at the revered “Family Pub” in Calais – adopted as the relaxation venue of choice by the L’Auberge / Help Refugees warehouse since time immemorial. I have no idea why – except the food is good, the beer is tasty, and the people are friendly.
Back on the M25, going at 2 miles per hour, Mark was getting restless. On the walkie-talkie :“Are we there yet?” .“Yes” I replied. I have twin daughters, and lying is a really useful tactic in some situations. “Would you like a pork pie?”. This was a bit left-field, but I do like pork pies. “OK, open your window and drive past”. I did so and a pack of Tesco finest was thrust through the window. I knew that from now on this would be known as the ‘Pork Pie Convoy”. But perhaps not by my passengers, who were all vegetarians….
Every Convoy is different, and I’ll remember this for the delays, the pork pies, the beautiful late-summer weather, my worries for the refugees facing the impending winter, and the worryingly few incoming donations. But most of all for all my fellow volunteers who may be becoming tired of being called amazing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.
See you in a warehouse in November…
We still have spaces on our next convoy over the weekend of 10 – 12 November – sign up here: tinyurl.com/CamCRAGConvoyForm