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Saturday, 23 March 2019

The Penny Dropped into the Tunnel

Ever since I took my beloved into the Chamber of Commons inside the Palace of Westminster last year, she had a longing to also visit the European Parliament in Brussels. Never mind that she intended voting to leave the European Union at the 2016 Referendum, to visit a centre of authority, especially one of political or governmental administration has always filled her with a sense of enthrallment.

I felt nervous about the whole idea of taking her to Brussels, a rather unusual feeling to have when considering that international travel was, and I guess, still is, second nature to me. But that is the outcome of her suffering a neurotic disorder which not only makes her reliant on a constant supply of medicine but for the need to call for an ambulance whenever she finds herself in a temporary "locked in syndrome" which is known to be linked to her severe backache.

Here in the UK, a call for an ambulance can be made at any location and NHS treatment is administered free to the point of use. But step off our soil and enter another country and things could well be different. One has to pay for an ambulance journey to the hospital and added to this, it's up to the discretion of its staff to decide whether we need to pay for treatment, and if so, how much. Yet once again, the EU has provided a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, which allows, in some countries, free healthcare or one of a reduced price within Europe.

A big contrast and a risk indeed if visiting the USA without medical insurance! Across the Pond, treatment can cost the patient thousands of dollars, and there have been instances when uninsured British holidaymakers to the States had to sell their own homes to pay for the astronomical medical bills. Indeed, every time I was due to fly across the Atlantic Ocean myself, I always prayed that no harm would come my way, even when I was fully insured.

And prayer might have been very effective in the mid-1990s, on two occasions. The first was in 1995 when hiking into the Grand Canyon, during the last part of the hike back to South Rim, I suffered a severe bout of hyponatremia, which is a dilution of the bloodstream caused by drinking of excess fresh water without the equivalent need for salt intake. The result of this is muscle cramp, particularly with the calf muscles, but the pain can spread to the back of the thighs. After successfully completing the hike, I was offered by one of the on-duty rangers to see an onsite doctor. I declined his offer, knowing that just for him to poke his head through the door would set me back $200. Instead, I was cared for by a nurse for free, who gave me a cup of electrolyte and told to rest for an hour, after which I made a quick recovery.

I suffered leg cramp on the last part of the hike...

The second near-cropper occurred in 1997, after flying to Los Angeles from Sydney. (Back then this commercial flight was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest non-stop.) It was three or four days later, after visiting La Jolla, which is some miles out of San Diego, when I saw the bus back into town on the other side of the highway. And so I did, what to any sensible person would have seen, was an incredibly stupid thing. I dashed across the highway to board the bus just as it was about to pull out. Of course, I looked both ways beforehand, but such an act of mad impulsiveness could have landed me in hospital, or even a mortuary, coming to think of it, after being struck and tossed into the air by a fast car "which appeared suddenly out of nowhere".

And for both of these occasions, my insurance policy may not have covered me, due to "taking risky acts" and suchlike clauses found in the small print giving the insurers good reason not to pay up.

I shake whenever I look back, especially of that bus incident. It was one of those things which any lone traveller can get involved, and an important lesson for the future always to keep my impulsiveness under check. Therefore, to travel abroad with a high risk of ill-health brings a multi-sense of nervousness, anxiety, fear even. Back in the nineties, I was very fortunate indeed. By doing this now, am I tempting fate?

For these reasons, I had a feeling of reluctance when my beloved wife kept up her desire to visit Brussels. I suppose this was something of a repeat of the Samson-and-Delilah scenario when after the constant mentioning of her wish, I finally gave in. But why was I feeling anxious in the first place? After all, since the partial loss of her mobility, I had taken her to Paris on the Eurostar twice already - thirty months ago and again a year later in 2017. Why so reluctant this time?

It was due to her worsening episodes of backache and related symptoms, and her greater dependence on powerful painkillers such as Co-Codamol and Oramorph of which neither were needed on her Paris trips. Therefore, ensuring that she was fully stocked with all her medicines, and also ensuring that I too was fully stocked up with Warfarin and related drugs, we set off for London St Pancras International Station.

I love the Eurostar international train service. It has that something which sets it apart from all the other national rail services. Even the train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Dijon, the fastest section of the Boulogne-Sur-Mer to Roma Termini, the whole journey which I completed in 1975, does not hold a candle to the Eurostar route. And as far as I'm aware, the Paris-to-Dijon route was the forerunner of the high-speed TGV which was the fastest in Europe, if not the world, at the time.

And so we arrive in Brussels Midi through station after a two-hour non-stop journey from London. And here again, I can draw a comparison between this journey and the one I did some 44 years earlier. To get to Brussels, the train first enters the Eurotunnel near Folkstone, on the English Kent coast. It travels under the sea to emerge at Calais on the French coast. It then travels across northern France until it reaches the French city of Lille. Just after Lille, the train crosses the border into Belgium. After we alighted at Brussels, the Eurostar continued on for Rotterdam and ends in Amsterdam, both in Holland.

In 1975, I had to go through a passport check at Modane Station before entering the Mt. Cenis Pass, a railway tunnel under the Alps which opens out at Bardonecchia, just inside the Italian border. I recall that time. It was late at night when the train was snaking through the valleys and through many shorter tunnels cutting into the mountain range. When it halted at Modane, it stayed there for I would say thirty minutes, while Border Control checked all our passports. It seemed like an eternity before the train sounded a groan as it started moving towards the tunnel entrance. It was already daybreak when the train emerged from the tunnel in Italy. It was mid-afternoon when I finally arrived at Roma Termini, some 25-26 hours after boarding the boat-train at London Victoria.

And all that was between just two countries, France and Italy. Now the Eurostar can travel between four countries after just one set of double passport checks, one after the other, both at St Pancras. The free movement between nations once out of England is to me, a marvellous effort of the European Union.

There was up to an hour's walk from Brussels Midi to the Parliamentarium, a museum of EU history and present administration. It's located close to the European Parliament. Having the need to push a wheelchair, we both agree to shun any more of public transport, whether bus or metro and enjoy what we could see of this Belgian city. Our decision paid off, as we passed through a lovely garden with a castle behind it, a relic of the city's history. 

We approached a castle, Brussels.

Much of the day we spent at the museum, as well as taking a look at the Parliamentary buildings and also at the European Commission Headquarters, a giant four-prong building about a 15-20-minute walk from the Parliamentarium.

Exhibits displaying the history of the EU has impressed me. Following the ravages of World War II, the Treaty of Rome was signed in March of 1957 and began to take effect from January 1st, 1958. It consisted of just six nations - France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. As we walked along the modern glass-lined and illuminated gallery, we were able to listen via earphones on how the Union slowly developed from the initial six-nation European Community to the present 28-nation EU, with the entry of the UK into the EC in 1973, along with Denmark and the Irish Republic. Indeed, I recall voting for the UK to enter the EC as a mere twenty-year-old, and I have never regretted it since!

A hands-on gallery featuring a giant map of Europe on the floor with various scanning points representing principal cities was another area of interest. By wheeling the scanner over London, I was able to learn that the EU was the source for the benefit of advancement in Medicine. I wheeled the scanner over Paris, and learn that railway transport was made much more efficient by being in the EU. For example, it was through an agreement, known as the Canterbury Treaty, which was signed between Britain and France in 1986 for the construction of the Eurotunnel. Finally, a meal at the museum restaurant completed a very edifying visit for both of us. 

In all, the EU arose from the ravages of the War. To my mind, it was the most forward project ever dreamt up to keep the potential of another global war in check. In a fallen world, the EU has never been perfect, neither did it result in another Garden of Eden, but it's a whole lot better than living under a threat of international conflict!

That's why I find leaving the EU a deep mystery within the mind of the Englishman and an incredible insult to common sense! Just last night I came across a poster on Facebook which scrolled on to the screen. It was a video of one-time pop star of The Who, Roger Daltry, who was cursing the EU, using foul language and unprintable swear words. Listing the EU leaders as the effing Mafia (without showing any evidence to prove his point), he reflects many who had voted to leave - the want of to be his own boss and a makebelieve life of a glorious golden future as an independent sovereign nation.

Map scanning gallery, Parliamentarium.

I guess it's the Englishman's Home is his Castle ethic. It is thoroughly unbiblical, arouse hostility, and I believe it's dishonouring to God when found within churches. And it looks to me that there is a connection between this attitude and disregard of Holy Scripture. For example, I have listened to the sermon of one Brexit-supporting graduate deny the historicity of the first chapter of Genesis. He is certainly not alone. Throughout my lifetime I have come across many grads who hold the same set of opinions regarding the denial of the Genesis record. Also apparently disregarded is the wonderful promise made by Paul to the churches in Galatia:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:28-29.

In other words, being in the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ transcends above nationality, gender and social status. This is a wonderful truth, a great promise, and also provides an answer to the hate-filled attitude among Christians found on both sides of the divide.

What a crying shame this hostile attitude towards remaining in the EU by Brexit supporters. Among other things, this has resulted in hate-filled comments following newspaper articles on the subject. And not a few were demanding the closure of the Channel Tunnel. Some were even pushing for a permanent sealing by dynamiting it. Strange really. British people had ferried to-and-fro across the Channel for decades, maybe even centuries before our present Eurotunnel was even thought of. But I have never heard a whisper or read a single statement demanding the sinking of all Channel-crossing ships! Yet they want the tunnels blown up and permanently sealed.

And while our train was passing through the tunnel on its way to London, the penny dropped.

Why such hostility towards Eurotunnel, especially among Brexiters? 

Could it be that those protesting under the banner of English sovereignty had never boarded Eurostar or used any of its shuttles? They won't admit to the true reason: They are terrified of the possibility of a train breakdown deep within the tunnel under the ocean, a signal failure, fire, a bomb threat, or even a breach of the seabed, flooding the whole of the tunnel, drowning everyone marooned inside. Yes, a terrifying prospect. Just the sort of frightful thinking which would scare me from venturing out the front door, let alone travel on Eurostar.


  1. Because I know that you have a travel bug
    I will not allow my illness to dictate what I can do, or can not do,or where to go,because I know that you love traveling.I will not allow this illness to make me house bound I love you my beloved husband and much more

  2. Dear Frank,
    Praise the Lord that He directs our paths when we acknowledge Him in all our ways, and that He has appointed angels charge over us, to guard us in all our ways. We must not test Him by acting recklessly, yet we can be assured that He will not allow any harm to come to us unless it is for our ultimate good and His glory.

    Praise the Lord that you were able to enjoy Brussels! Prayers for healing and that the Lord will allow you many more journeys together.

    Thanks for the great post and God bless,

  3. Dear Frank,
    While it is true that many of those supporting nationalism and Brexit have ungodly purposes, it is worth remembering that God created the divisions at the Tower of Babel to limit man's ability to rebel against him. Prophecy tells us that at the end, the Antichrist movement will unite the world in an attempt to destroy God's power. I suspect God is using the conflict to get people to think about where they stand.

  4. Donald Fishgrab beat me to the punch, many things seem logical in the worldly sense, yet our Father in heaven knows best. Glad you and Alex had a nice trip and made it home safely 😊