Claire King


One Way Ticket

Posted on: February 14th, 2016 by Claire - 16 Comments

If you read my last post, Ring Out the Old, you’ll know I have been planning a move to the UK. Well, it’s happened, mostly, in that we are here, even though we still don’t actually have a new place to live…

Yes, I know, but it’s a long story and there wasn’t any choice.

You could say this hasn’t been the easiest of times for us.* As any of you who have moved house will know, the process can be so frustrating. It all takes so much time to arrange, and the bureaucracy can leave you feeling powerless, as the costs and the stress mount up. The children, too, are feeling it. They have now left their French school but without a permanent address in the UK can’t yet get places at a new school here. They have no room of their own to put their suitcase in. Their books and toys are all in storage. No routine, and all their friends left behind in France. Walking out into the unknown for the first time in their lives.

Then there was the journey itself. The four of us, one dog, one cat and a couple of suitcases, squashed into a car for an 835 mile drive, on a one way ticket to uncertainty:

We emptied our house and left it behind, setting off towards a new life, but without actually having a new home to go to. We didn’t even have time to say goodbye to our friends and neighbours properly (although we do plan, once settled and organised, to go back and do that).

Five minutes into our journey a nasty smell filled the car. The (long-haired) cat had weed in his travel cage. And pooed.  An ominous start to the two-day drive. We found somewhere to stop the car. We cleaned the cage. We cleaned the cat. We had ten hours drive ahead of us that day, as long as we didn’t have to stop every ten minutes to clean up poo.


Fortunately we didn’t. The first day’s drive went pretty smoothly, even through the heavy snow coming down over the Massif Central and eventually we got to the hotel near Paris that we had booked for the night and found something to eat. That night my younger daughter, who is eight, dreamt that when we got to England our new house was in a war zone, bombed to dust, but that our old one in France had already been sold to strangers. We had nowhere to go. We couldn’t go back. I felt bad that we were putting her through this. “It will all be fine,” I said. “Great, even. You’ll see.”

My older daughter, who is ten, woke up the next morning with a crippling stomach ache. She was nauseous. She didn’t want to start the journey again. She didn’t want to leave the bed or the hotel room, even though it was pretty crumby. I gave her water and a plastic bag for the car. “We have to keep going,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

Five minutes into the journey a nasty smell filled the car…We found somewhere to stop. Cleaned the cage. Cleaned the cat.

Four hours later we reached the Channel Tunnel. Our pets were checked, their pet passports and chips verified. Our passports were checked too. Everything was in order. We were so nearly there.

On the other side of the tunnel, as we headed up the motorway towards London –  my husband, my kids, our aging pets and a few clothes and personal belongings – a car overtook us. It had got a few yards past us, doing about 80mph when one of its tyres blew. I watched in slow motion as it snaked out of control, crossed the carriageway, hit another car, spun away with bits of bodywork flying off it and hit the central reservation. Then it spun back into our lane. Right in front of us. My husband was driving. I couldn’t see if we had a clear lane to move into (we didn’t). I couldn’t see if the people behind us had managed to keep their distance or were going to hit us from behind (they had, they didn’t). I was sure we were going to be in the middle of a pile up. But it didn’t happen. My husband slowed the car and got us over to the hard shoulder where we called the police, checked that the people in the other cars were OK (they were) and trembled for a little while before pulling ourselves together and resuming our journey .

Two hours later, we were sitting on a sofa with cups of tea, telling this story.

*You could say that. But then when you think about it, it hasn’t been as bad as all that. We left one peacetime country behind and travelled to another. In our car. Men came and packed up our things into boxes and put them into safe storage. My daughter dreamt our house had been bombed, but it’s just anxiety and it will pass. My other daughter was ill en route, but she didn’t have to walk for miles in the cold, on an empty stomach. She curled up in a warm car under a blanket and slept as we drove. At the border people were polite and cheerful. We had family and friends waiting for us. It’s true we have no home to go to yet, but it should only be a matter of weeks and until then we have an abundance of offers of beds and meals and wine. Somewhere to stay as long as we need it. Because we are the kind of migrants that are welcome here. We have the right passports. The right faces.

Here’s how you can help migrants that do not. 




Postscript: Please read this Amnesty blog post.

Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed –

16 Responses

  1. Caroline D says:

    My goodness Claire I was in tears by the end of reading this. Bless you for remembering how lucky we are those of us who have security and the right passports. I do hope that you find a house soon and somewhere to settle down and send you good wishes.


    • Claire says:

      Thank you! I know we all have times where our striving and our troubles can seem overwhelming. But my heart goes out every day to those who face extreme and seemingly endless hardship, just looking for a safe place to be.

  2. Bless you all. I regret not buying shares in cat-cleaning equipment, now – but then I was never good at spotting opportunities like the Kings’ move to the UK, with cat. Best wishes for a safe haven for your family soon – and safe havens for all the families in less genial circumstances out there. Vxx

    • Claire says:

      Ha! We are not sure if Biscuit’s contribution to this post was brought about by intolerance to travel, revenge for the indignity of having to wear a harness, or just a wicked sense of humour. He has currently taken over the landing at the house we are staying at, from where he regards us with suspicion.

  3. Welcome back to blighty Claire – amused by your post but also very touched by the poignancy too… just can’t begin to imagine the plight & perplexity of the thousands of people fleeing their homes.

    Hope you’re settled in the new King abode soon x

    • Claire says:

      Thank you, Poppy. I hope people won’t let those other families, less privileged than mine, slip from their minds, but rather continue to do what they can to help them too find a safe haven. x

  4. tu says:

    xxx (the rest by email!)

  5. Rachael Dunlop says:

    This brought back so many memories for me as we too packed up the home where our children were born and raised, to move to another country without knowing where we were going to live, and therefore with no schools for the children. Everything bar a few suitcases in storage. Beloved pet rejoined. Children anxious, me stressed and feeling guilty. I could feel the anxiety rising in me as I read. And then I came to your poignant footnote. Remembering the plight of others doesn’t necessarily diminish our our own stress but it certainly puts it in perspective.

  6. I remember that journey in reverse! It was cat sick and the poor little soul was terrified. The journey seemed unending. But the disruption was worth it. I hope the next few weeks go as smoothly as they can and good luck with the new schools.

  7. Marina Sofia says:

    Hmmm, and there was I pondering whether to return to the UK with our cat in the car or in the plane… I think I know which option is winning out now.
    But seriously, how amazing are you to laugh off all your own anxieties and uncertainties and adventures and think of others less fortunate! Hope you settle down soon and that you get a chance to say goodbye to your French home and neighbours.

    • Claire says:

      I have seen people taking cats on planes in very clever looking backpacks, which seemed to be working well for them. We couldn’t imagine that working for us though…All things considered, he coped really well with the journey. Good luck to you too!

  8. Claudia says:

    Aww! Glad you’re all in this country safe and sound! Hope that A & B are past their nightmares – much love to them both – and also sending lots of under-chin tickles to Biscuit, who did extremely well under the circumstances for a cat who, I imagine, has never has to endure longer distances in the car than to the vet. 835 miles with only 2 accidents – what a little star! Hugo, I presume, is fine? Dogs are happy where their people are, so will travel pretty well, but cats go with the territory and find it more difficult.
    Hope you get settled in very soon and looking forward to reciprocal visits in the future! xx

    • Claire says:

      Everyone much calmer, thanks! B still a bit out of sorts but doing OK. Hugo did fine, as you say he just wants to be together. His only confusion is that he won’t toilet anywhere that isn’t his territory. So we have to show him where it’s OK. Yes, Biscuit did brilliantly. Interestingly he hated the hotel, but when we got to N&S’s house he seemed pretty relaxed, staked out the joint and picked his spot. Looking forward to showing everyone their new home, eventually…and yes, to seeing each other more often!

  9. […] back to the village we left at the very start of this year after having lived there for 14 years. When we left, we had no home to go to.  But we packed up and went because unless we were in the UK we simply couldn’t organise the […]

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