Deserted at sea

We’ve caught the ferry from Harwich quite a few times now. Usually we travel by bike, but as Zoly wasn’t quite ready for that experience yet, we came by train. I think it’s fair to say that Zoly has not exactly fallen in love with our lovely Dutch Doggride bike trailer! It’s quite a long journey to Harwich, even for us to cope with (especially with Mike’s persistent back pain) so we were also a little anxious about how Zoly would cope – especially going on the ferry for the first time.

He was great on the trains and even on the Underground in rush hour. A top tip – if you want to avoid the crush on the Tube in rush hour – take a dog. We seemed to create an exclusion zone around us. Of course, little did people know that if Z decided to shake his head his slobber would have easily exceeded this zone. Fortunately for everyone the saliva mostly remained attached to the dog. The journey from Liverpool Street was pretty uneventful apart from a woofing incident when a leather clad bloke suddenly came through the train door from another carriage, but mostly Zoly snoozed on the floor.

On arrival at Harwich International (somehow it doesn’t quite have the same ring as St Pancras International) we trekked over to Morrison’s (or maybe that should be ‘Morrison’s International’ as we needed to get some food for our and the dog’s breakfast. In our rush to leave the house I’d forgotten the carrot and meat for Zoly plus there was no point in caring soya milk from the west coast to the east. The trudge through the arse-end of Harwich to reach a desolate and windswept retail estate really makes you wonder what the European visitors disembarking the ferry must think of when this is their first glimpse of Britain. No floral clocks or fluttering European flags here, just a B&M warehouse, Costa coffee, Bargain Buys and a massive ‘Vote Leave’ banner on the first roundabout as you leave the ferry terminal. If I were them, I’d be tempted to turn around and head straight back to the Netherlands.

A very warm welcome (not) to England for our European neighbours

Mike did have a go at dislodging the ‘vote leave’ banner, but it was too well staked into the ground. Zoly gave it a sniff but even he couldn’t be bothered to waste his piss on it. It did seem particularly ironic that a little town stuck out on edge of Essex that must be so reliant on Europe for trade and jobs should be where we found this banner – the first we’d seen. In previous journeys across the east of England at election time the countryside had been coming down with UKIP banners, but not this time. Maybe all those farmers are starting to worry that Brexit would bring an end to their free money subsidies. 

There she blows!

The sight of the ferry berthed at Harwich is always exciting. The ship is so huge it looms large above the quayside making the lorries look like Dinky toys. We’re used to boarding the ferry on our bicycles via the car-loading area, but being on foot this time we entered via the foot passenger terminal. The terminal building is pretty uninspiring, a large waiting room with café (closed of course, just to demonstrate the great British customer service!), vending machines and toilets. It was very crowded as one train after another emptied. 

Unfortunately Zoly who had been so good on the journey didn’t cope very well with the crowded waiting room and woofed at a group of unsuspecting Indian passengers. As you can imagine for me and Mike this is very upsetting on two levels – a) Zoly shouldn’t woof at anyone as we don’t want people thinking he’s a dangerous dog (he’s not – if he ever got hold of you he’d more likely lick you to death than maul you) but more concerning is the thought that b) is Zoly being racist? Why did he woof at the Indian passengers? Can dogs be racist? How could two left-leaning gay men end up with a dog that woofs at people from different continents? I think our anxieties about b) says more about us than Zoly!

We retreated to the far end of the waiting room, round the corner where the waiting crowds were well out of sight and there was no one for Zoly to get wound up about. Mike went and spoke to the women checking people through the walk on passenger gate and explained that Zoly was a bit anxious (not to mention us!) as this was his first foreign trip. She was very nice and said she’d let us know when the crowds went down. This was about thirty minutes later and once we’d passed through security and check in we were loaded onto a bus to be driven onto the boat. The foot passenger walk way is closed for replacement – hence the bus ride.

Once on board we went to passenger services to get the kennel key code and took Zoly down to his accommodation for the night. The kennel was already occupied with two other sheep dogs in their cages. We chose a cage above these for Zoly so that he wouldn’t be looking at the other dogs. He was very good going into the cage. I lifted him up and put him on the blanket we’d carried for him to sleep on. Stena Line also provide duvets for the dogs and water bowls so we took advantage of these. There was no woofing, just a bit of whimpering – but to be clear, this was mainly from Mike who was getting more and more anxious about being separated from Zoly for the night. Maybe I’m hard-hearted but I was trying to stay calm as I didn’t want Zoly to pick up on any vibes.

We left Zoly without making too much fuss. Mike stood outside the kennel with the door ajar for a while just to make listen that Zoly wasn’t howling or crying. There was none of that so we headed up to our cabin. I’d barely taken my coat off before Mike had tuned the TV onto the kennel channel. The cctv had six camera angles, Zoly appeared in shot six. He was sat bolt upright with his head facing the door, clearly awaiting our return. The other dogs all appeared to be snoozing (although we watched one owner come into the kennel and then proceeded to sedate her dog), so watching Zoly clearly alert and waiting for our return was heart rending. 

A horror movie – the sort of things you could have nightmares about!

Now where did I put those sedatives – I think Mike needs one

I wasn’t sure watching the kennel channel all evening was going to do any of us much good. Fortunately after about 25 minutes Zoly was looking more settled, if not entirely relaxed. The boat’s engine shuddered into life at 11pm to mark our departure. Zoly perked up at the rumble, but soon was down again. We switched off the TV and hoped that the gentle engine throb might lull him to sleep rather than the far worse prospect of traumatising the poor love into never wanting to go on a boat ever again – a bit like the bike trailer, but on steroids!

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