Monday, 26 April 2010


Funny how a news story takes on a whole new perspective when you find yourself caught up in it.
Even so, I thought Sky's response to the genuinely breaking news of the volcano ash cloud was pretty feeble.
We were staying outside Albufeira on the south coast of Portugal when the story, as it were, blew up. That Thursday evening we were glued to the hotel TV which had Sky News, anxious for information. But Sky were obsessed with the build-up to the first of the political leaders' debates and didn't seem able to change gear to reflect a genuine story spilling out all over the northern hemisphere.
"Breaking News" said a graphic. We all sat up. "Gordon Brown Leaves Hotel," it continued. We shook our heads.
As for BBC World, the channel is great if you are into Far East money markets. But like Sky, hard, detailed, factual reporting of the crisis that left thousands of Brits stranded far from home was difficult to spot.
This lack of definite information made the task of getting home much harder. It was stressful not knowing what to do for the best. Outside a local bar they were quickly advertising coach transport to Calais for 350 euros. I didn't fancy that too much, especially as no-one knew how long people would then have to wait at Calais. Eventually we got a booking on the overnight ferry from Santander in northern Spain. This entailed a day-long, 1000-km drive which we achieved with time in hand thanks to the remarkably-clear motorways in Portugal and Spain. As the picture (top) shows, we visited places we didn't expect when we hopped on easyjet two weeks earlier. The biggest problem was the car hire company Sixt's initial refusal to allow us to take our hire car out of Portugal, followed by a demand for over 1000 euros because the car was being handed back in a different country. This has happened to countless other people and is an absolute disgrace. In the European Union there is no way that people should be penalised like this, especially at a time of crisis. What are the politicians doing about that?
At Santander someone who presumably already had a car booked onto the ferry had stuck up a notice reading: 1700 euros - I will drive you home. I don't know if he had any takers but some weary traveller had scrawled underneath: "Hardly the Dunkirk spirit"! The second picture is of the packed terminal of Brittany Ferries at Santander.
It took us three days to get home but we made it and it was a great relief to return to English soil on St George's Day. The extra days in the sun were certainly no picnic. It is not a pleasant situation, not to know how or when you can go home. And anyway, it wasn't very sunny.