It seems frivolous to complain about a single and comfortable journey from London to Avignon when thousands are struggling across the entire continent, on foot, by train, by bus, by any means at all, to reach a safe haven called Germany. So I’ll complain only quietly about the mishaps that befell my friend Caroline and me at the hands of Eurostar and SNCF. en route to a bicycling holiday in the south of France. We chose to travel by train this year rather than by low-cost airline (never Ryanair if we can avoid it). Trains are comfortable, fast, civilised and you can eat in style as the scenery whizzes by.
I’ve only two observations to make. The first is about cheerfulness, the second about superstition.
Things went wrong from the start, our Eurostar train halting at Ebbsfleet, just outside London, fifteen minutes into the journey. There was an announcement about technical problems. Eventually disgorged onto the platform, we waited an hour or so for a ‘rescue set’ of carriages. Two hours meant that we would miss our connection at Lille. But what was remarkable about the whole experience was the cheerfulness with which the English reacted to this minor inconvenience. True, in our carriage they were mostly elderly passengers on a Saga holiday, with all the time in the world (or less, depending on how you look at it). But you’d think that the adversity were some kind of bonus, something they would even pay for if they could. You could feel the mood lift and camaraderie set in as the situation worsened. It’s as if the English take pleasure in inconvenience as long as they can all be in it together.
We switched to a later train at Lille, and sped towards Avignon just two hours late. Two hours into the four-hour journey we slowed to a crawl and the driver announced there were problems with the track. We were three hours late at Lyon, where we remained in the station for a further two hours. Track problems further slowed our journey so we were seven hours late at Avignon.
We couldn’t then leave the car park because another passenger was blockading the exit, protesting at the extra hours he’d been charged because the train was late. Remonstrations, threats, made no impression, but this insane man eventually gave up, and finally we arrived at our hotel eight hours late at two in the morning.
My second point is about superstition. It’s hard to resist the feeling that bad luck is sometimes personal, caused, or planned for a purpose, the effect of divine or satanic interference, or witchcraft or wizardry. Bad things come all at once. But it’s nonsense, of course. A bad run of luck at the roulette wheel is precisely that. But even so, I can’t help feeling we were meant to arrive late, but whether so that we should be delivered from disaster, or into it, I don’t yet know.