Sorry, the boat was late

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Matthew Brown catches up with the education official who commutes from France

Like most commuting these days, Bob Rose's journey to work can be frustrating. Since last autumn the route to his office has been lined with the all-too-familiar transport hazards encountered daily by most working people - cancellations, delays and long, long journey times.

But for Mr Rose, a schools officer with Kent education authority, it isn't the floods or dreaded rail repairs that drag him from home at the crack of dawn. It's the ferries. Twice a week he arrives at his desk in Folkestone by 9am shortly after crossing the brief but unpredictable expanse of the English Channel.

Mr Rose, 49, lodges most of the week in a small room in a house in the Kent coastal town where he works. But at weekends, and for one night in midweek, he lives with his French wife, Agnes, two-and-a-half hours away in a small fishing village called Etaples sur Mer, near Le Touquet, a 30-mile drive south of Calais.

"Ferries are not really commuter-friendly," he says. Indeed, only that morning his usual 8am ferry to Dover had been cancelled, for no apparent reason, forcing him to get up at 5am to make the 6am service. "I was at my desk at 6.45 (British time), wondering what I was doing here. It can be inconvenient - to say the least - and it's definitely not a cheap option."

Yet, who knows, with an ever more integrated Europe, Bob Rose could be in the vanguard of a new wave of continental commuters. Despite the inconvenience of being away from his 1930s art deco house by the sea for most of the week, he says there are advantages to the unusual life he has been living for the past 18 months.

His "very pretty" three-bedroomed French house, which he is slowly renovating, cost the equivalent of pound;87,000 - a sum unthinkable in the expensive south-east of England. He also feels that he is genuinely part of two countries and cultures. And he has learned a great deal from the French education system, largely from his wife, who is an education inspector for 60 schools in the Le Touquet area.

"We talk a lot about education at home," he says. "It helps both of us to compare the systems, because they are so different."

Before moving to France and taking up his post in Kent two years ago, he had lived and taught all his working life in Lancashire. He was in charge of special needs support services in Salford when he met Agnes, about four years ago, at an international conference on inclusion. She was working in Paris at the time and invited him to France to do some work on behaviour management. "Things went from there," he says.

Flying between Paris and Manchester, they kept the relationship going long distance until Agnes transferred to Le Touquet. Mr Rose knew his pidgin French wasn't good enough to get him a job there, so he looked for the nearest place and applied for work in the south-east. "I was very lucky to get the job with Kent," he says. "Then there was only the Channel between us."

They married last summer and now, with their "cheap" house and low interest rates - and despite hazards such as the October storms which left one ferry adrift for hours (he "missed" that one) - they find the arrangement has distinct pluses for two "fairly senior education officers with busy lives".

"It's actually a very efficient way of balancing work and home life. When I'm in England I work. I don't have to worry about feeling guilty if I get home late, and I don't have the extra pressures of home life that other senior people have. When I go home I don't work. I can hardly pop back into the office."

As a result, despite travelling for two-and-a-half hours, four times a week, he reckons he is less stressed and tired than other people in similar positions. "One of the difficulties with this kind of lifestyle is finding time to plan," he says. "But I have four sessions on a boat each week when I can think about what I'm doing. It's not like a train; it's relaxing."

And when the week's over he goes home to "Madame Inspectrise", as his wife is known locally. "When we go out it's great. I'm just 'Bob' - an appendage." His French is improving too.

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