I am off to Paris again on Thursday, to see my good friend Thierry and his lovely family.
I am going on Eurostar as usual, which apart from having appalling food and astonishing prices in their buffet, is far better than taking the plane to "The Continent" as Brits like to call the rest of Europe.
Thierry has been quite ill, so I have been over to visit several times in the last months. This is the story of one of those trips.
Had an amazing weekend in Paris.
Saw my dear friend Carmen and her son (my godson) Gorka.
Stayed with Marianne, Eva and Julius (the wife, daughter and son of Thierry) and got to know them a lot better.
Julius who is two, calls me 'Papa', it must be confusing, neither I nor his dad have hair. It reminds me of the Hank Williams song "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy", but I guess it is not so funny under the circumstances.
Eva is a lovely, bright, precocious eleven year old. She can be surprisingly manipulative, really keeps you on your toes, but is generally a pure joy to be around.
Marianne is well earthed, kind, loving, sensible and Dutch. We have long deep discussions about the meaning of life, love, death ..... you know the craich.
I saw Thierry several times in hospital. You have to sterilise then cover up in a gown, mask, hat and booties to see him.
Thierry sits calmly in his isolation, dressed mostly in orange, bald headed, he looks like Gandhi. He shines with positive energy as one by one he graciously accepts and entertains the relatives and friends who go through the ritual of cleansing to visit him. One of the most amazing experiences of my life, was seeing him in this state, considering his condition.
On the Sunday night, we go to have dinner with another friend, warm, lovely, Italian. She cooks us a delicious vegetarian dinner and entertains us until I have to leave to catch the train home.
The train is quite full, but I have a spare seat beside me. I stretch out and relax, thinking of the beautiful weekend I had with loving friends. I have a 3 hour ride ahead of me, the train should get into London around 11 pm.
Ten minutes out of Paris and the brakes slam on, we screech to a halt. Silence.
After about 10 minutes, an announcement: "We are very sorry for the inconvenience Ladies and Gentlemen, but there is a problem with the line. We will continue the journey as soon as possible".
Then another, and another, until eventually, an hour or so later we are told that someone has committed suicide by jumping in front of our train. We are waiting for the coroner to finish his deliberations, etc. etc.
Meanwhile the passengers are taking it all pretty stoically. There is a friendly scene in the bar where food and drink is still available. People are telling each other their stories etc. By about 11 pm, an announcement goes out that smoking is allowed in the bar, it is immediately packed, you can barely see 6 inches. Eventually the bar has nothing left to sell.
At about 12, we are told the authorities have finished, we have a new driver, we will shortly be driven back to Paris to take a new train.
As we get into Paris, we are given the clear instructions that there will be another train beside us on the other platform. That we will be the only passengers and would we please take the same carriage and seat that we had in this train.
I reckon it will be a while before we depart, and that they will not allow us to smoke on the new train, so stretch my legs for a bit and I have a leisurely cigarette on the platform before boarding.
On the train, find my seat and whoops, someone is sitting there. He quickly realises it is someone else's seat, and politely leaves. I take the window seat, the spare still beside me, planning on stretching out a bit later, I become engrossed in my book.
A few minutes after the train pulls away, a group of about 7, mixed, young people come into the carriage. They start hustling people ...... "could my girlfriend sit there?" ..... "is that seat spare?" ..... "would you move to that seat so I can sit next to my girl friend?" ..... etc. etc. basically most people are too polite to say "piss off and sit in your own seat", a few refuse and tempers rise a bit. Suddenly, one of the guys plonks himself down beside me. Not a word. He throws his anorak over his head and just sits there.
Hmmm, I begin to think, this is not good. These people are pushing us around, they have perfectly good seats. Now I will be less comfortable and it is still 3 hours home and I have already spent 4 hours on the last train.
Part of me goes "calm down, it is not important", another part of me goes "why should I have to put up with this" ...... the cycle goes around my head a few times. Eventually I think I cannot just take this imposition without any response at all. I turn to the guy and say "excuse me, would you mind going back to your own seat, please". He whips the anorak off his head, turns to me and shouts, inches from my face, obscenities and threats for about 30 seconds, turns back, throws the anorak over his head again.
Hmmm, I think, not only has someone taken the seat next to me, but he's a nutter as well.
OK, so I am tired, it is one in the morning, my patience is being tried. One voice in my head is going "OMMM, calm down, it is not important", another voice is going "but this guy is taking the piss", "he is taking advantage of my passivity", "why do I always have to absorb other peoples shit?", images of violent retribution flash across my mind.
After about 10 minutes and I realise I have to respond in some way, I cannot calm down the inner dialogue. I have to do something for my own self respect. But what? I am not a violent person, he is bigger, fitter, younger and clearly madder than me.
I have a plastic cup of gratis Eurostar water in front of me, before I have really thought about it, I have poured the water in his lap. He whips around with such a look of astonishment on his face!!!!! He makes a big fuss, starts telling his friends, they start saying how horrible I am, he starts threatening me again.
Me? I am calm, happy, serene, satisfied, a beatific smile on my face. Ah, non-violent and appropriate retribution to a stupid bully. He rants on for a while, but what is he going to do? Beat me up in front of 100's of people? No, he calms down and throws the anorak over his head.
Then he starts to get silly with the space. He starts to push my arm off my half of the arm rest, to dig his elbow into my ribs, to push his knees across into my leg-space. He his holding hard with all of his strength, it is pointless trying to push hard back against him, he is stronger than me. He can't hold hard for ever, but he has the territory now, and I am uncomfortable. I press softly against him. I keep the soft force gently against his leg and forearm. That kind of soft intimate pressure a male would pull away from, when applied by another male. Gradually, he pulls away, I keep the soft pressure there, eventually I have my space back. Sucker !!!!!
He falls asleep, I doze.
4.30 am and we are approaching London. Eurostar had told us earlier that they would bus us home from the station. Now they announce they could not get the busses so they will give us vouchers for a free taxi ride. A groan of disbelief goes up from among the passengers, who well know there would not be 500 taxis at Waterloo at any time of the day!!
The guy sitting next to me threatens me a bit more, but I ignore him, he is a pathetic bully.
After about 20 minutes in the non-moving taxi queue that must hold at least 600 people, I realise that this is just not going to happen. I start walking home. A night bus takes me part of the way. I get home at 6 am. I sleep most of Monday.
Wow !!! What a contrast !!!!
I wonder what this weekend will be like?