Burstin for a swim – Jim Shalloo’s channel epic

I’m sure Jim will have his own version of his several days out in channel land, but I’m just going to capture – for posterity – a few of the happenings around the actual swim.  Kind of a colour piece, to be fancy about it.

Channel waiting is a pain in the ass.  Are we going?  Are we going now?  Is it windy?  In Dover?  No?  In Wissant?  Yes? Now Dover?  Wissant?   Days and days of it. Seriously, it’d drive you to drink.  Or at least that’s how I rationalised this pic I got from our channel hero a few days before the planned swim dates. Jim’s take on carb-loading shouldn’t really have been a surprise to me, as the top swimmers have nutrition plans that might not suit those of us less gifted athletes.

Finally the word came to get to Dover and I sprang into action, booking flights and accommodation.  Ryanair first thing on Friday morning and the closest I could get to Dover – the Grand Burstin Hotel in Folkestone – for the overnight.  Jim was supposed to swim early on Saturday, so the hotel was going to be a brief stop.  As long as it had beds, how bad could it be?   Bad. It could be bad.  Very, very bad.  

Apart from needing an extra hour to get through the airport while Bernard greeted the hundred or so people he knew, the flight went fine.  We’d have got to Dover quite handily if Bernard hadn’t directed us on a shortcut to Varne Ridge to meet Finbarr.  Here’s a view of a part of the shortcut.  One of the wide parts.

We went to do the normal channel stuff – swim in Dover, see the statue etc. Here’s Captain Shalloo (Lieutenant Commander (Ret’d) to be precise) meeting Captain Webb.

Then we went to the hotel.  The Grand Burstin Hotel, Folkestone.  Make a note of it, people.  Make a big note.  On the note write NFW.  In big red letters.

All I can say in my defence for booking the place is that other channel swimmers have stayed there.  I don’t know how, but they did.  Where to begin?  I suppose the first indication that we might have a problem would have been the man entering the lobby being led by a pit bull.  In said lobby he met another man – holding two alsatians.  We didn’t know it then, but they were wise men.  They had brought protection.

The hallway to the rooms gave us further warning of what we were getting into.  We were on A-Wing.  I’d hazard a guess that A-Wing in the H-Blocks was more salubrious – even during the dirty protests.

The room was hot.  Sauna hot.  One window opened an inch. It did not help for temperature reduction.  The room was not clean.  Finbarr will usually walk anywhere in bare feet, having soles like leather.  Finbarr would not walk in this room without flip flops.  The squishy stuff on the carpets would melt his feet.  He was sure. 

Here are four reviews from TripAdvisor for the Grand Burstin Hotel for around the time of our stay.  You’ll get the idea.  Might have been a good plan if I’d checked them first -rather than Finbarr calling them out to me while we were in the room. Sweating.

  • Appalling – worst hotel I’ve ever stayed at.
  • OMG – worst hotel ever.
  • Below any acceptable standard.
  • Absolutely horrendous.

These reviews are kind.  Very kind.   

Bernard went to the hotel bar to get some water – to pour over our heads as the sweat rolled off us.  He got back.  That was good, because it wasn’t a certainty he would.  While Bernie queued for the water bottles, one man – a representative sample of the hotel clientele, it must be said – loudly advised his female partner to “Shaht the fahk ahp, yew stewpid fahkin cahnt”.  Bernard did not engage him in conversation and, in fact, did a commendably military impression of “eyes front”.

We sweated in the sauna-room waiting for the call on the swim.   Through the inch of open window in the sauna, we heard the following piece of friendly banter from outside.  “Shank ‘im!!  Go on, fahkin shank ‘im!!  I’ll fahkin shank yew ya bastahhd.” etc.  And more in the same vein.  A good night was proceeding in Folkestone.  Ten minutes later we heard the swim was off, so Bernard insisted we should go outside to join the revellers – and hopefully stop sweating. 

The bouncer (yes, the hotel door had a bouncer) looked at us and asked “You’re not going outside?”, in disbelief.  Bernard (it was all his idea) confirmed we were.  The bouncer looked us over and said “Well, you’ve a few big guys and if you all stay together you should be ok.”  I am not making this up.  Bernard still made us go out.

To be fair, once he’d seen inside the door of a couple of the dives near the hotel and the state of the crowd falling around the place, even Bernie gave up.  We ended up sitting outside the door of the hotel among the debris.  It gave us a nice view of the police car pulling up and the two officers disappearing at speed into the hotel – possibly looking for Bernard’s friend from the bar, or some of the happy shankers still wandering the area.

We got out alive the next morning and more swimming at Swimmers Beach was done and a visit made to the White Horse.  By this stage, Jim was off the drink for almost four days, so he topped up the carbs with Bernard during Saturday and I drove us back to Heathrow.  Unfortunately, that carb-loading proved to be unwise as a call came at the airport to say – “turn around, come back, swim tomorrow…”.   

I had been shown to be singularly useless at getting Jim across the channel, so I was dispatched home with Bernard.  The call went out for more experience.   Enter The Bull.

In summary for this second attempt and to give credit where it’s due, Rob at least got as far as buying all the food for the crossing and getting Jim greased up.  He also didn’t risk lives with his choice of accommodation. Then the swim was cancelled.  Again. 

They had a picnic on the beach, David took all the remaining food back to London to feed the starving masses, Finbarr started driving home – again – and Rob and Jim dealt with the carbs.  Trojan workers for the carbs, the lads.  Trojan.

So that was round two.  No channel joy.  No joy with me, no joy with Rob.  Plenty of carbs, but no joy.  Time to get serious.  One week later, there was a new boss.  Unlike what The Who said, it was not the same as the old boss(es).  Enter Carol.

Carbs?  Well, carbs just weren’t on the menu any more.

Doesn’t Jim look happy on the H2O?    Maybe not.  But he certainly did the next day.  Carol was in charge.  Jim swam the channel.  Simple.  Then normal service resumed.

So there you have it – a lesson in channel swimming.  You can call The Burstin-Booker.  You can call The Bull.  But if you want to swim the channel – call Carol. 

Oh, and don’t book The Burstin.  Don’t ever book The Burstin.

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2 thoughts on “Burstin for a swim – Jim Shalloo’s channel epic

  1. I had a very similar experience with said same hotel in 2014 with the Munster Mermaids. Just the one night mind you before hitting our caravans – thank God for that! We reckoned we were starring in an episode of Shameless. When you ask for a glass of wine at the bar and the bartender pours it from a box………….

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