Can a Boatwif report on a totally boat-free trip…?
Failing to find any serious objection to a fun-sounding plan the Captain and Boatwif agreed.
As the designated day drew nearer unforeseen aspects became apparent. The 1104 Eurostar train from St Pancras (such a civilised time) would require a very early start. True, there is little daylight in mid-December but to leave the house before 8 am was, well, unusual – and barely light.
Tickets scanned, passports inspected, coats, bags and persons screened airport-style, the four were through to the Other Side.
Time for a coffee. Time for a comfort break. (“Hmm, smells like we’re on French soil already,” sniffed Godmanchester Friend 1, and she, as a frequent visitor to France and one-time Bordeaux resident, should know…)
What a murky day it was. The train gathered speed, out past the St Pancras gasometers, re-purposed now for urban living, out through southern London, out along the Kent marshes, hastening towards the Tunnel.
In less than 90 minutes there was Lille, a city in northern France.
The streets of Lille are broad and grand, boulevards and squares, with narrower streets behind the main ones. Many of the buildings have impressive facades and the street lights have elaborate ironwork curls…
A magnificent doorway
It was grand – and with two fluent French speakers on hand sales negotiations were smooth and jolly.
A little distance away were three gatherings of police – why? Blue lights flashed, occasional bangs penetrated the festive air. A hint of smoke hung above the crowds. What was going on…? Godmanchester Friend 1 approached the black clad police to seek information.
“He said there are 15,000 people coming this way,” she reported, “and that we’d better move back a bit.”
As she spoke the view ahead was changing: red and white flags were being unfurled in a corner of the square, a mass of people were progressing towards the plaza, the bangs became more frequent and the police moved into “battle formation”, three lines deep.
The operator of the miniature train cast light upon the situation: this was Day 2 of France’s nationwide pension strikes. His cynicism caused a laugh. “Some of them just want to draw a pension without ever having done a day’s work… “
The episode gave Godmanchester Friend 2 chance to ruminate: where had been his “edgiest” location… Not Albania last September, he claimed, but San Paolo in Brazil some years ago.
It was late afternoon, the light beginning to fade.
How would the streets and stalls appear when dressed in Christmas lights?
Rather glorious, was the verdict.
And as for the verdict on the 15 hour door to door Away Day – it was pretty good all round.
Christmas is being spent in Cheshire. Though Boatwif might have felt deprived of boaty moments in recent weeks there has been a brief visit to Cleddau. Look, she seems to be “wearing” some of her Christmas present already, ahead of Santa’s visit.
Spot the difference, folk!
May the New Year bring you peace and safe travels, whether on land or on water…