From the English Channel

Who would spend 86 hours and about £300 travelling from Athens to the UK when a four hour flight costs a third of the price?

The answer is, of course, me - but I was rebuking myself with this question yesterday afternoon when I found out that my ferry crossing from Cherbourg to Poole had been summarily cancelled because of what can only be described as British weather.

As I scrabbled to find an alternative route that wasn’t disgustingly expensive (Eurostar topped £200, the train from Dover was nearly £90), unhappily time-tabled, or, indeed, already fully booked, I was annoyed at myself for choosing the slow road home, horrified at the mounting expense of two extra train fares, and disgraced by the choices we’ve made as a species that put such a high premium on terrestrial transport.

Then I remembered the people I left behind in Izmir, Samos and Athens: the Afghan students I’d taught the days of the week, the Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi chefs who’d cooked for me, the friends of many nations with whom I’d hiked to the beach - the thousands of people who would give anything (their life savings, their youth, their life) for the chance to travel across the continent so charmlessly.

At the port, as police swept the underside of lorries for desperate stowaways, all I had to do was dangle my passport and cycle aboard. For me, there’s only the merest whiff of a border, and a delay of an hour or two is no delay at all.


As it happens, I feel very lucky to be on board - and not only because I’m winning the passport lottery.

Yesterday, after frantic re-routing analysis, I finally settled on the Caen to Portsmouth ferry as the least painful option. I booked the same, swiftly followed (naturally enough, I thought) by the booking of a train from Paris to Caen.

I agonised over the timings: should I book the languorous early train which would leave me a yawning two and a half hours of footling around in Caen, or should I book the dynamic later train, with time for a leisurely lunch in Paris and a snappy arrival 45 minutes before departure?

Eventually, my cautious nature won out and I booked the early train.

Good thing too - because the Caen and ‘Caen’ of my tickets are two completely different places. In fact, one of them isn’t called ‘Caen’ at all.

Caen, the actual Caen where my train arrived, is a landlocked town some 16 kilometres from the English Channel.

The spurious ‘Caen’ of my ferry booking is actually a place called Ouistrehem, which might look less catchy on the brochure, but has the singular advantage of being geographically accurate.

Good thing I had that spare hour for a rapid bike ride through the misting Calvados rain.

My trip to Samos was suggested by a good friend I made while we climbed the epic hills of northern Greece in the final week of Thighs of Steel.

She happens to be one of the editors of Are You Syrious?, an almost infeasibly impressive blog that gathers news of refugees and migration from all around Europe and summarises the stories in a daily digest.

They also publish ‘Specials’ - articles that go into a little more detail, written by activists, volunteers and general mugginses on the ground, i.e. ME.

Without further ado, here is my AYS Special — Fire on Samos: Engineered Catastrophe.

This newsletter is the engine room of all my writing, so you might feel a sense of déjà vue while reading certain passages, but this piece puts everything that I experienced on Samos into more thoughtful context than was possible in the hectic moment.

The founder of one of the Samos NGOs (who I never actually met) sent me this message, seconds after the article went online:

Just read your article on AYS! It's a very good description of what is going on here...thanks!

No higher honour was ever bestowed on a writer.

The elephantine-memoried of you will recall that I had something of a mission to accomplish in Paris: a hunt for a love letter.

I won’t go into the gory details in this newsletter because I have documented the whole trip in an audio post that you can find here.

One final note about this shiny new email format: as well as being able to browse through the whole archive on my Substack homepage, you can now also search every single newsletter I’ve ever written, going all the way back to 2015!

I’d better go - Andrew, the ferry’s Entertainment Manager, has just announced a circus skills workshop (plate spinning is promised) in the Blue Note Bar on Deck 9.

Much love,

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David Charles wrote this newsletter. David is co-writer of hit BBC Radio Wales sitcom Foiled, and also writes for The Bike Project, Forests News, Global Landscape Forum, Elevate and Thighs of Steel. Reply to this email, or read more at Thank you for subscribing!