It was all about the journey

Why Marseille you ask? What’s so special about that city that you made it your destination? Well, it wasn’t about the destination, it was all about the journey, and besides — that’s where the train stopped. Months before I’d read that the Eurostar would now have Marseille on it’s route and the plan was to take the train from London, ending up at the end of the line, in the French city port that is Marseille. Check it out on a map: it’s quite a trip on a train. And so bookings were made, passports, money, everything was in place, the countdown to the holiday had begun.

The trip began in the waiting area at the railway station and was akin to waiting at an airport: people watching, drinking coffee and wishing time would pass. Oh, and selecting two magazines for the journey. Magazines were a pleasure I’d not experienced for a while, as most of my information came via pixels these days. Time went slowly but an announcement that boarding had commenced changed all that. A polite scrum formed and filtered passengers towards the secutity stations. There was a point when I was lifting the luggage onto the scanner that I thought, “should I be lifting this with my bad back”? Eurostar did not appear to consider lifting heavy weights a Health & Safety issue. Once nothing bleeped at the scanners and the luggage was wresteled into the space provided on the train, the stress receeded and the journey really began.

The train began gathering momentum as it departed from St Pancras International and I eased into relaxation mode while my mind considered the meal, due to be served once we left London behind. My traveling companions were my four family members. Could anyone ask for better travel companions on such an adventure? Well the seating arrangements worked out well. I was seated across the table facing a lady who was to spend most of the journey writing cheques to unknow people. Unknown to me at any rate, as reading French, upside down is not a skill I excell at. I found it strange, I mean all that cheque writing in an era of digital everything? My family meanwhile were seated at their table across the isle. We communicated in secret nods, winks and assorted gestures, some of which I never understood. I couldn’t figure if I was being asked if I knew where the toilets were or if I had a spare toothbrush… We occasionally spoke in whispered, truncated sentances, unsure of how much English my table companion understood. We did not want to share family secrets….. Another batch of cheque writing was interrupted by the gliding past of some of the flight crew, well, guess they are not techniclly flight crew, but they came pretty close. “Bonjours” were exchanged and this was the signal that our meal was on it’s way. Eventually the food service stopped at our table — the table of my French cheque writer lady and I. The attendants (I guess) asked what she’d like as her main course and the conversation continued: words in French being exchanged for food items from the trolly. Then it was my turn. I ventured that I’d like the chicken please, but in French of course, hoping my French was good enough to be understood. I was hungry. There was a pause.. but then I was offered chicken! Success and relief all in an instant. My confidence growing, I ordered coffee and some bread rolls, all of which were placed in front of me, accompanied by a smile and a nod. My meal had arrived and I was content. Was I concerned about my families dietary requirements? Ha, not a lot. I had my food and little would deter me from enjoying it. Ok, I admit I was a little worried as I knew of the reluctance across the isle to speak French, though some people…. had learned French in school for many years…. But looking across the carrage between bites of chicken it became obvious that hunger helped fluency in French and the table had smiling earters happily grazing.

Some time later an announcement filled the carriage and people paused eating. Forks paused, mid move to mouths while the English speakers pondered what the French announcements could mean. I tried to understand the French and my ears picked up, “we are sorry” and “delay”. My mind moved to fill in the blanks, so that when the news was delivered in English, I finally could confirm that there was a problem. A problem I’d been expecting, to be honest. There was to be a delay due to technical issues, but was that a code for something else? I had seen the news on tv, had read the newspapers.

I’d been monitoring events for the previous three days, listening for any mention of delays that would impact upon our travel plans. The refugee, migrant situation in France had become steadily worse with more people arriving in Callais, living in make shift camps, trying to breakthrough security and get to the United Kingdom by any means possible. That included hiding in the back of trucks or walking along the railway tracks. Tracks that carried the Eurostar to France. Desperate times call for desperate measures. People fleeing situations in their countries of origin, desperate for safety in a new place.

I’d questioned my feelings a week before, now guilt sat there whispering. “These people, trying anything, risking their lives to get to the UK and what are you doing? Eating fancy food, traveling in luxury. Annoyed by the delay. Is that right?” Well the delay gave me time to think further. And yes, I did continue my meal. We were on our family holiday. Whispering again -“think of all the money this holiday is costing, think of all the “good” that it could do, yet you sit here…..” But am I to stay at home and give all my money away? Whisper — “you should give more”. Points and counter points fought for promenance and still they hiss and whisper now as I type. They were constant companions on my journey. An unsteady alliance, look after your family… but how far does “family” extend? Everyone on the planet or just us five?

Another announcement, guessing phrases again and then finally understanding. The voice speaking English with the French accent drifted away.

Hmmm… how is this going to work out? We have to change stations to catch the TGV (high sped train) to Marseille, but because of over an hours delay we will miss our connection in Paris. We need a plan. And we get one via a conductor who has excellent English. Once we disembark in Paris we were to meet a representative of SNCF (French Railways) who would help us with connections and seat reservations, meanwhile I coordinated our transfer to the other station from where we will leave on the TGV for Marseille.

And again I wait. Time for thoughts. Delays, a representative to meet, tickets to be reissued, getting across Paris, suitcases, so much to think about. And guilt. Again I think of those people in Callais, those on the tracks, trying to escape. Whispers continue and gather volume…..

Welcome to Paris, France.

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