It is nearly two weeks since the Old Bat and I went over the France. We passed a long line of lorries parked up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the road was still open and we had no problems in getting to the Channel Tunnel terminal. The train operating company had sent a text while we were on our way just to confirm that we would have no difficulty.
When we came back last week it was a different story. There were no problems in France - well, we encountered none, although there were plenty of would-be immigrants milling around just outside the tunnel terminal, no doubt waiting for darkness when attempts to evade security would be easier. We saw only short queues of lorries, but there are three motorways leading to Calais and the main port is on the other side of town from our approach.
On joining to M20 in Kent, we once again saw the effects. The far side of the motorway, leading to tunnel and ferries, was closed and there were lorries parked up on the hard shoulder on our side as well. Until we reached Ashford, at which point the motorway was closed on our side too with traffic diverted into Ashford and then along the single carriageway A20 to Maidstone. I decided to follow my nose across country having spent a good half hour queuing to leave the motorway. Ashford was grid-locked and it was this that really brought home to me how so many people other than would-be Channel crossers were affected by this problem.
I'm not sure which group of people were (or are still) the more deserving of my sympathy.
- There were the transport companies whose lorries were probably several hundred miles from where they should have been throwing schedules into chaos and causing problems for their customers. In some cases the lorries were carrying fresh food which reached the point where it had to be thrown away.
- There were the lorry drivers having to endure many hours of doing nothing at the side of the road.
- There were the local residents who were experiencing great difficulty in going about their normal lives. The grid-locked roads meant that there was no way of estimating how long a journey might take whether that journey was simply to the local shops or to a vital hospital appointment.
- There were the businesses losing money because their customers just couldn't get to them - or who decided against even trying. Leeds Castle is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kent and they said that their visitor numbers were down by 30% on last year while Operation Stack continued.
- And then there are the immigrants themselves, many of whom have left war-torn countries or countries where they have little hope of earning a living. Whether they be asylum seekers or so-called economic migrants, they have endured hazardous journeys and are having to live rough on the outskirts of Calais. And who are we to say they should not attempt to find better lives for themselves by migrating? Isn't that what thousands of our own fellow countrymen did when they emigrated to Australia, Canada, the USA?