Just before Christmas, Monsieur and I collapsed onto a Eurostar train to Paris unaware that we would have free in-carriage entertainment for a good portion of our trip. Soon after the train glided away from the platform, a bilingual girl, no more than 10 years old, had a fight with her little sister as they sat across the aisle from me. There were noisy choking sobs, big red eyes and Maman promptly appeared to settle her girls. Blessed silence followed for a few minutes so I snuggled down into my seat trying to snooze the way to Paris, but this was not to be. Little Miss Songstress promptly launched into a whiny, wanna-be-popstar version of Shakin’ Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone’. It was pretty bad the first time she sang it, but then admittedly it was better than listening to snivelling. Maman cooed praises at her Little Miss as Little Miss decided she could sing it better a second time. And a third, and a sixth and an eleventh time. My i-Pod was out of charge. I had regrettably not considered packing earplugs. There was no way of blocking out the owner of that nasal annoyance so I sat there, along with my more considerate fellow passengers, silently wishing that the mother and her offspring would somehow find a way to accidentally fall off the train. That didn’t happen but eventually the child grew tired of singing so stopped after the twelfth refrain. Yes, sad as it may be, I had counted. Try as I might, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
On other not-so-pleasurable train trips to France I and my fellow passengers have endured stinky food that makes you wonder if someone has hidden some Epoisses under a seat, noisy children’s games on laptops, computer downloads of comedy complete with canned laughter, and mobile ringtones that make you wish you were deaf. The noise-free carriages appearing on various UK train networks may work to counteract the sound pollution on some carriages, but then again, when reading popular opinion concerning these it would seem that the rule is seldom enforced, meaning that if Sharleen wants to sing along with her mobile phone recording of some dischordant rap song in teenage defiance of others, then noone is going to do anything about it.
On another occasion, I endured a neighbouring 4-way conversation encompassing daughter’s search for the right university to attend in the States. Proud English father was there, talking about his American wife and life in the USA, what had brought the family back to England (schools) and his law credentials. I learnt so very much that evening that I almost felt part of the family. Meanwhile, Father and Daughter’s American seatmate launched into advice about which colleges were better than others and why, how many times she’d been published since gaining her doctorate in Art History before categorising her favourite Parisian museums in order of preference. This time my i-Pod was already firmly wedged into my ears but I still didn’t manage to miss anything in spite of trying to drown out the happy party with music. Don’t even think about trying to read with that sort of conversation blabbering on next to you. In fact, most of the carriage could probably divulge facts about the Ivy League that they’d never known before. That night, we couldn’t get to London quickly enough.
A different source of frustration when travelling Eurostar has to be queuing to clear customs at the Gare du Nord. The French and UK double-act of officials is arranged in a mess of booths and columns that interrupt the flow of passenger traffic. The Brits huff and puff as they try to negotiate a strategic spot in the line, generally losing out to our Continental Cousins who were taught in infancy how to leap-frog their way through obstructions with a dismissive pout and shrug towards anyone in their way. My new attitude? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Outta my way!
However, I have to admit that when lucky enough to be on the train in a quiet carriage, it is complete and utter bliss. Years after its inaugural trip through the Chunnel, there’s still something quite magical about travelling under La Manche in a sleek Eurostar train, green English countryside on one side and French fields on the other. Arriving at the Gare du Nord with Sacre Coeur’s white dome glinting in the distance never fails to bring a smile. The swiftness with which we are transported from one country to another, without the hassle of getting to or from an airport with added check-in times, security hassles and baggage claim is yet another bonus. And because food is so important to France, even a French catering strike won’t prevent the company from feeding you. They just arrange for extra provisions to be picked up in England.
In order to capitalise on the enjoyable experience that Eurostar can be, I’ve come up with a few rules. 1. Bring earplugs. 2. Make sure i-Pod is fully charged before travel. 3. Pack Kalms in case I need assistance with my planned snooze.
For those less considerate passengers among us, a few suggestions: 1. Kindly use all electronic devices with headphones. 2. Avoid stinky food and please don’t pack it. 3. Train your children not to disrupt fellow passengers, especially if they can sing. 4. Turn your Crazy Frog ringtone OFF and 5. Take your loud conversations to the bar carriage. I really don’t care what colour you paint your fence or what new wonder product your housekeeper is using. Some people just want peace…