At Calais we lumbered off the ferry and, ignoring a small official with a large hat who kept bellowing ‘Fret! Fret!’ at us, we made our determined way to the domestic immigration channel. The small official pursued us, and when he paused for breath I explained politely that, no, we weren’t freight:  we were an inoffensive English couple taking some household goods to a maison secondaire. We had all the paperwork, I added helpfully.

For a second this gave the small official pause, then he brightened. ‘Douanes, Douanes’ he said, gesturing towards a dilapidated hut off to one side of the docks. Dutifully, we made our way to the Douanes, the customs shed.

The customs officer peered disdainfully through his little window at the dusty Ford Transit sagging on its springs, at the laden trailer with here a chair leg, there a lamp shade poking out from beneath its insecurely tied tarp. Ignoring the fact that I had spoken to him in French, ‘Do you heff an eeenventory?’ he sneered.

Did I have an inventory?  Mentally blessing my savvy friend and the office photocopier, I produced the paperwork. It ran to 27 pages; it was written in English with a French translation for each item. It landed on the ledge with a satisfying thump.

‘Mon Dieu!’  The customs officer smoothed his moustache with an agitated finger, ‘Passez, passez!’

We waited until we were a kilometre or two beyond the docks before we allowed ourselves the explosion of laughter we felt was our due.


Taken from ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’. winner of One Stop Fiction’s Five Star Book Award.