On the 3rd and 4th July my friend Fay and I went to Dover for the night via the scenic route. I say scenic route because, after running an errand in Meopham and having a hard time trying to get anywhere due to lack of signposts, we headed to Chatham cemetery so I could try to find the grave of my aunt Susan (who died aged 10 months in 1944) and my grandmother Dora (who died in 1967 aged 50). Her parents were also interred there, having died 4 days apart in 1974. I had last been to Chatham in 1974, two years after we moved to just outside Southampton, but never visited the graves my entire life. I had no idea where my granddad is and still don’t.
Google maps, in this instance, was a pain in the bum as well as the streets of Medway being unhelpful. It had also been difficult finding anywhere who sold flowers and it was only due to two wrong turns, we accidentally found a florist! After doing a U-turn along the Maidstone Road, we passed Pattens Lane, my grandparents and mum’s home and where my grandmother died. We found the cemetery but there was no one to ask where the grave was so we wasted so much time trying to find it. It was such a depressing place with many graves either collapsed or vandalised. Many names had worn away, even those from the past 50 years, while others only had the flower vase with no marker saying who was buried there. Thankfully I had taken the grant of grave document with me, which contained the phone number Sue from our local undertaker had written on a note after my mum had died in 2010. I called it and it turned out to be Medway council. Their automated system is the most ridiculous I’d come across. You had to say the name of the person you wanted or a word. When it tried putting you through to who knows what department and you have no answer, you are asked to press 0 for the operator. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just speak to them in the first place??? Well a lovely lady (whose name I’ve forgotten) helped me before realising I was in the wrong cemetery! Nowhere on the maps does it say there is another cemetery around there. It ONLY has the big one between Maidstone Road and Palmerston Road. So we hopped into the car again to find it and section 16.
Even though we were in the right place it was still no easier, although this part at least wasn’t in as much disrepair as the main one. The problems of collapsed stones, solitary flower vases, names worn away and some vandalism remained. It was a very sad plot with all those babies buried there. Despite checking, double checking, more than quadruple even, we just could not find it. I was beginning to get disheartened at the thought it was one of the now unknown graves and I’d asked Fay to make the detour for nothing. I tried the lady at the council again and we found it but in an unusual way. I asked her to check one of the graves and tell me how close my relatives’ was in comparison. With instructions from the bloke in charge of cemeteries, it was two rows towards the entrance then eleven plots along. I began walking but none of the rows had set numbers interred so I stopped and tried to get clarification as the one I’d asked her about was in a row of more than eleven. Suddenly, Fay said, “Patsy, it’s here!” I turned around and it was right by my feet! I just cried with relief we had found it, it was intact and one of those in good condition. My lifelong goal had been realised. Not being able to drive makes doing these things harder by relying on public transport. I don’t understand how both of us missed it despite all the looking. I must admit I thought a memorial would have been more than a small slab of movable stone, and included Susan’s name, but we were looking for anything with one or both anyway. Were we helped in some way from beyond the grave or was it one hell of a coincidence? We’ll never know for certain but to find it that way after looking about 25 minutes is just weird, even for my family!
Fay left us alone for a while. I would have liked to have stayed longer but apart from the fact we were now running late to be in Dover by 5pm, I was unable to crouch or sit for a long period due to my back and knees. It was hard enough getting down for a photo then back up afterwards.
And so onto Dover! The roads were at least clear. Fay had booked the Premier Inn by the ferry terminal as it had twin rooms. Each time I’ve stayed in a Premier Inn in the past with friends, it was usually a double bed with sofa made up. This time it WAS twins – yay! Fay had never seen a Carnival ship and Carnival Legend was in with the new AIDAstella (which was a Southampton caller too) and that was due to sail at 5pm with the AIDA 3 hours later. Once we’d checked in we had enough time for a quick drink and some Nachos since it had been a loooooooooooooooong time since breakfast. The nachos were version two due to my bell pepper allergy so they put the dip separately for Fay.
Then outside for the Carnival, which left on time. Spirit of Britain, one of the new P&O ferries (no longer connected to P&O cruises) was leaving around the same time while Calais Seaways followed shortly afterwards.
We’d booked a table for 6pm and this Premier Inn had an extensive restaurant. Our waiter was called Joe and really nice. We had the PI staple – curry! I love their curry and first had it at the Harwich one in 2009. I followed that up with ice cream. There was a couple of pensioners on the next table there because of a free bottle of wine voucher and he changed his main course to the curry after smelling ours! They’re going on Norwegian Jade in a few months and didn’t understand the Freestyle Cruising concept so I explained it to them. We gabbed so long it helped kill time before the AIDA.
The sun had come out, clouds cleared and it was lovely and warm. Hopefully this was a precursor for our cross-channel ferry trip the following morning. The AIDA did blow the horn as she left but also turned in the channel to head to Portland. The P&O ferry, Pride of Burgundy, plus the Dieppe Seaways were on the way to Calais while Pride of Kent was alongside for a while before also heading out, Spirit of Britain heading in.
By the time we returned to the hotel, it was gone 9pm and so time to sleep once my friend Howard Paulman had called and I told my dad about the day.
We had intended to watch the Saga girls arrive for 8am but Ruby came in about 4.15am with Sapphire at 5.20am so we missed them. Fay hadn’t booked breakfast. £8 is a lot of money really when you can pick up something at the ferry terminal or onboard. After checking out, she was given a free parking ticket (perhaps due to complaining about how hard the bed was though I managed to sleep in mine) and we set off for the ferry terminal after taking a photo of the girls.
They’d closed the footpath since she was there last so we had to double back on ourselves and cross a few roads. After checking in, we waited for the bus to take us to the ferry, stopping to get off briefly at passport control. The terminal was quite large with stairs, ramp or lift. Fay had booked the Spirit of France, which Facebook friend, Kev Webber, worked on but he was off this day. Deck space is minimal with aft windscreens. One side was smoking, the other not but that didn’t deter some selfish smokers crossing, with fags in hand, to the other side. I’m not against smoking, just the morons who make the considerate ones suffer. Upstairs was Club, which you pay extra for. We bought some breakfast before we set off. Due to the rubbish open plan, there isn’t enough seating and what there was, had usually one or two people hogging an entire table or area. We managed to find seats in front of the P&O 175 display. I was used to cruising or going by Hythe or Red Funnel ferry so this was a first for me. When my mum was younger, she used to go over to Calais but not get off so I was sort of following in her footsteps. The Captain warned us it was a bit foggy so the fog horn would be going. It was bloody windy too.
The ramp of the ferry was incredibly steep and went on for ages. My back and knees were on the verge of packing up by the time we reached the bottom and boarded the bus to the terminal. We were just staying there as there wasn’t enough time to do much else.
Around 12.30pm we went through passport control. First was French, who examined it closely then scanned it. A couple of feet on were the British doing the same thing. We waited in the departure area before boarding a bus to the boat. Another long and winding ramp but with the boat being smaller, it didn’t take long to get up it. Fay had booked Pride of Burgundy as our return transport. I quite liked it better than the Spirit of France. There were more places to sit for a start! We left about 20 minutes late then had to turn in the harbour.
Because of the awful wind, we went inside to find a seat, which was easier to do than on the Spirit of France. A quick snack of Kent crisps until we neared Dover, when we went out again. The murk had cleared but wind awful still.
Disembarkation was much smoother than Spirit of France in Calais, where people waited on the stairs. We got onto the bus and were kicked off at immigration but you weren’t told that was the end of the road. Someone with special needs was looking for the bus afterwards. The building was being redone and immigration were asking everyone where they went, how long you were gone and other stuff, making you feel like a criminal in your own country. Once we got back to the car, it was time to go to see the Saga girls go, which was meant to be 4pm. Fay parked near the Prince of Wales pier, bought a ticket and we walked down. The closer you got to the front, the worse the wind became and I REALLY wished I’d brought my other coat or at least a cardie after all but the forecast said lovely and warm with no mention of strong winds! Well Sapphire did muster at 3.40pm which was sort of helpful, then a bloody yacht held up the departure, her casting off fully once the harbour master escorted the thing in. There was a lady at the end too who was from Folkestone. Her first cruise had been the Orcades and she also did the original Oriana and Canberra as a child. Latterly she returned to cruising, sailing on Aurora and was on Oriana last December during the much-publicised norovirus outbreak so was telling me how so many became sick within the first couple of days and P&O didn’t give a toss, eventually refunding for medical treatment. Someone she knew was on Ruby, who had received a deep clean after her own norovirus outbreak so Sapphire was pulled astern, saluting each other as she passed. It’s a good job they’re both little but it was still near impossible getting them both together because the end of the pier is too close. It reminded me of Hythe pier minus the awful fence. The Esplanade seemed a better option after all because at least you could get better shots.
As Ruby did muster at 5pm, we left as who knew when she’d go and we had to get back for Fay to catch her ferry back to Cowes. As it turned out she sailed at 6pm.
It had been a great couple of days despite the awful wind and cold. And I can finally say I’ve done a ferry crossing thanks to Fay – yay!