Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tunnel Vision

My TGV train from Lille was running late. From Waterloo, the Eurostar had whisked me under the Channel but now, as we approached Tours, things went awry.
When the conductor removed his official cap and sauntered onto the platform, casually lighting a cigarette, I figured we were in for a delay.
An apologetic announcement followed, thanking us for our understanding, at which a large percentage of the passengers piled onto the platform, puffing furiously. A phalanx of French fumeurs or whatever the collective term might be.
There was, said the apologist, a problem with “Le Controlleur.” He didn't specify the problem and I had visions of Sir Topham Hatt, perhaps having overindulged himself at dinner, struggling to gain control of the TGV network. Or, since the whole system is computer driven, peering at the screen on his laptop, where Microsoft would have posted one of their enigmatic and totally useless warnings that the software had crashed.
I had taken the rail route as I was sick and tired of being abused by the BAA staff at Stansted Airport and their laborious and pretty useless security measures. My shoes had been irradiated so often by their X-Ray machine that they were glowing in the dark and I was fearing for my toenails.
Train would take the strain.
And so it did, until we pulled into Tours.
The Eurostar, especially when it terminates at the new terminal in St. Pancras in November , is about as civilised a way of travelling as one can find in this age. A new line will enable it to travel at its maximum speed over this new link, Railtrack staff having been instructed to try and get the distance between the rails closer to the norm of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, a standard that sometimes seems to elude them on the present track.
The train that goes to Brussels is exceptionally comfortable as most of the passengers are commuting on business. The Paris route is a bit more stressful as it is frequently loaded with families travelling to Disneyworld. I suppose they have to get there somehow, but not on my train.
However, as I have to get to Angers, it's the Lille route for me via the Brussels train and then the TGV.
Compared with the farcical security at airports, the Eurostar people have their walk though scanners, now a rite of passage in this world, set so that only a fully loaded Kalashnikov is going to trigger the alarm.
And nobody has to tell you to insert the metal end into the buckle.
They seem pretty confident about the water tightness in the tunnel as well, since there's no life-vest drill!
The French TGV network has an enviable record of timekeeping and our arrival in Angers, fifty minutes late, was the first time in a good many journeys that I can recollect being delayed by more than a few minutes.
As we exited by the ramp, SNCF staff were on hand with pre-paid envelopes for us to claim a reimbursement. They guarantee that you will not be delayed by more than thirty minutes without compensation.
Personally, I would settle for a signed photograph of Sir Topham Hatt.



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