Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Off the rails

When I was young there was a television star who claimed he had psychic powers that enabled him to bend metal forks, spoons and other implements. After a Warhol moment of fame he disappeared from our screens, presumably to continue mangling the contents of a kitchen drawer in the privacy of his own home.

I am beginning to think the Frenchman has a similar effect on public transport. I am not saying it is his fault, but every time he goes near it something goes pear shaped.

He rang to say his Eurostar returning to Paris was three hours late. This was unconnected to snow storms or anti-Chinese Olympic flame protests, but due to technical problems with the trains, the track, the tunnel, technical things. He was extremely fed up. It was not the first time: his Eurostar was held up for hours at Christmas and we once spent three hours on a blacked-out Eurostar in a pitch-dark tunnel somewhere in Kent after a total power failure.

A couple of weeks ago we boarded a train for Normandy to see his mother. The bags were on the racks, La Fille had taken off her coat, scarf and shoes and was in the process of emptying the contents of her bag and the Frenchman was on the platform smoking a last Gitane. Suddenly a man ran into the carriage and shouted that we were all on the wrong train. There had been a mistake in the platform announcement and our train was about to leave...several platforms away. We had to grab everything and run. "I've never known that happen before," said the Frenchman. It should have been a clue, but I was slow to put deux and deux together.

In London we set off to visit friends. On paper it did not look too difficult; a bus, a tube, a train. The bus was fine; the usual stamp-on-the-brake driver, but otherwise OK. Then the Northern Line. One branch of the Northern Line was closed for the tracks to be renewed. Of course, it was the branch we wanted. So we went to Waterloo where I imagined we could take an overground train, but Waterloo was completely closed because of a general power failure. Back into the Underground and on to London Bridge. Up to the surface and onto an overground train. Uh oh. The opposite door in the carriage was out of order. The Frenchman is perpetually astonished that it is hard to guess a) from which direction a train will arrive - in France Metro trains always arrive from the left and mainline trains always arrive from the same direction - and, consequently b) which doors will open when the train eventually arrives. "What if we need to get off that side?" he asked nodding at the 'Out of Order' doors. "We'll be stuck on the train," I said. "Let's get off at the next station and run to the next set of doors," I suggested. "Will we have time?" he asked. I was not sure. I asked a few passengers and they thought we would be OK. "Let's risk it," I said. The Frenchman looked doubtful. "OK. Let's not." Given our form we would be stuck on the train for the rest of the day. I said this. He said: "There's no need to be over-dramatic. The situation is difficult enough as it is." I shut up and decided to ram the pushchair through the narrow space between seats saying: "Excuse me, excuse me", and, in case anyone thought I had flipped: "Those doors aren't working." The Frenchman's face grew longer. He grumbled: "It would have been quicker to go to lunch with your parents." They live in East Anglia.

It was lovely to see our friends and the lunch was fabulous; easily eclipsing the grief of getting there. It reminded me of one of La Fille's favourite books. We're Going on a Bear Hunt, we're going to catch a big one. What a wonderful day, we're not scared. Oh no. A crumbling train. We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Uh oh, we'll have to go through it. Groan moan, groan moan, groan moan...

Today, I added it up: the Frenchman doesn't know it but he is a psychic trackbender. It sounds unlikely, but not half as mad as some of the excuses we have been given for the above.


Dumdad said...

I must remember never to travel with the Parisgirl famille!

Parisgirl said...

Dumdad, even I'm reluctant to travel with them!