‘Just so you know, I’m totally terrified’ That’s what I told Brian the day before my first trip started. We were sitting at the dining table in the crew house in Wemeldinge with sun pouring through the windows and paperwork spread around us. My shopping was done and the coach was packed, now I was just going over and over my shopping list for Paris and feverishly studying my trip bible for any helpful information about the campsites that I might have missed before. Brian (a driver) told me about his first trip where he stayed up until the AM every night checking his route notes and looking at every intersection on google street view in the hope that once on the road it would all seem familiar. So basically what he said was, ‘you will be fine, but you will probably stress that you won’t be fine for every single day of the trip’. That’s what I took from it anyway.
The next day we got up at 7 in order to be on the road at 9. Sitting in the jump seat next to Brian I was a ball of nerves and excitement. Speeding through the flat green landscape of Zeeland then Belgium then France we wondered what our Trip Leader would be like, neither of us having met him before Dave would be as familiar a face to us as the new passengers we were about to pick up. Paula and Stacey however were friends who had been on Training Trip with me and I was looking forward to having them with us as ‘walla’ TL’s.
Paula and Stacey were the only reason I could identify my group when they came off the ferry at Calais with the other two trips starting that day. Brian and I greeted Dave like an old friend all the same, sometimes trips are all about the illusion. The illusion that you know this person and are friends, the illusion that you have been to these places before, the illusion that this isn’t my first trip!
I saw our new passengers and thought ‘new friends’. It didn’t help my nerves though, I SO wanted to be the right mix of authority and friendliness, which I found later comes from being myself and knowing what I am doing! The closer we got to the Paris campsite the more my nerves gathered and my head raced with all the things I had to do to make the right first impression and the right first meal.
That first night was a wonderful example of what a trip could be like. One girl was sick and Stacey took her to hospital and was there until 3am. I set up my cook tent and dinner was just moments away from being served when a car pulled up and told us we were in their parking spot. The driver stayed in his car until we had moved everything including the fully constructed cook tent to a new spot. It started raining and the passengers went off on their driving tour of Paris whilst I stayed back to clean. Lucky I did because two boys from South Africa turned up very late after troubles at the airport and found me in the cook tent. I rustled up a quick dinner for them and found them a free tent in the rain. My cook tent started flooding so I made sure to collect everything off the ground before going to my cabin. I made many trips back and forth from my cabin that night to double check things like whether or not I had left the gas on. It was not a restful night.
The next day did not get any easier.
I was up early to serve breakfast but I left the passengers eating and caught a taxi to the shopping centre where over the next 3 hours Paula, Stacey and I would spend close to €2000 on food for the next few days and weeks. This was a huge accomplishment for me and I was happy with how it was going until my boss was all of a sudden standing in front of me.
Why? Well because I was new, my credit card wasn’t quite set up yet, so Dave was supposed to be coming to pay for all the food. But something was wrong with our coach so he and Brian were at the mechanics getting it fixed. They had called another of the trips in town to help me out and Welshy (my boss) happened to be with them. Of course he was going to come along to check out how a cook on her first trip was going. I was nervous all over again, reduced to stammering out answers to the questions Welshy was asking me (he had scared me quite a bit on training trip). Eventually Welshy even said ‘For goodness sake Gemma, stop being so nervous!’
We eventually got back to the campsite, quite late at this point, where Dave and Brian had just got in. Jude and Noddy from the other trip made some calls to arrange for their picnic (pre-made at a restaurant) to be picked up by yet another trip and to be taken to the Eiffel Tower. Then we all got down to preparing my picnic in the rain that had been coming down all day. Water was inches deep in some parts of my cook tent.
2 hours was all it took for the feast to be created by the many helping hands but we were still running over time when I closed the doors on the food laden bus and exclaimed that I had forgotten to cook the snails! I looked at Welshy for a clue as to what to do. He said something that I think sums up what we are all about. ‘It’s your passengers first and possibly only time in Paris and they will never have an opportunity to eat snails under the Eiffel tower again, but it’s your choice.’
As crew we come in and out of these cities every couple of months. We can become blasé to some of their wonders. We can become tired in cities that never let us sleep, we have the opportunity to skip places in walking tours that we find boring, or to skip a day stop that is difficult to drive to due to flooded roads. I had the opportunity to be lazy and not pull my burners back out to cook the snails in the rain but I remembered who’s holiday it was and out came the pans.
We weren’t even late in the end due to good traffic and miraculously the sun came out for the first time that day, even though it was just for 45 minutes it was all we needed to enjoy our picnic. The praise from my hungry passengers made the stress of the day worthwhile. And hearing their stories of wandering through the first of their great European cities reminded me again of the point of the job.
I finally washed my nerves away with a glass of wine at the Cabaret that night. Crew members from several trips sat in the balcony seats and unloaded their own first day horror stories as topless sequin clad girls sang in French below us and I was able to relax (before going back to the campsite to continue making lunch for the next day). It was only the first day but so far Brian’s prediction was right.