Before I left London, last Friday, one of my commenters wished me ‘a weekend without slaps’. Ha! The gods were reading my blog that day.
Our trip started very badly: when my partner and I turned up at our local underground station to get to Waterloo, we were stopped at the gates by a guard who told us the Central Line wasn’t running. I have to admit that panic ensued – we only had two and a half hours to get there, after all. No, I’m kidding; we did have plenty of time but the night before I had joked that in my experience the journey from Shepherds Bush to Waterloo had never taken longer than 45 minutes so why were we allowing so much time. Again, the gods were listening. Lots of shouting and cursing and tears (well, maybe not tears, but, you know), lots of running around like demented fleas; lots of wild trundling of uncool suitcases on wheels (I lost a very nice shiny padlock in the scramble); lots of arm waving in an attempt to hail engaged, heartless cabs, and finally, as we were running in the direction of the other Shepherds Bush station, the one on the Metropolitan Line, the line where trains amble along at a snail’s pace, a line that might or might not have taken us eventually to Waterloo, we spotted a black cab that had just dropped someone off at the BBC studios, down the road. It was at a standstill at the traffic lights and was going nowhere that particular instant but we ran towards it as if it was going to suddenly take off vertically like a helicopter and escape our grasp. We could have kissed the driver. It was a miracle. If you’ve ever tried to hail a cab on a Friday afternoon in London, when a major tube line isn’t working, you’ll know what I mean. So, my First Slap goes to London Underground for the stress they caused us even before we’d left the city.
Onboard the Eurostar, we were sitting in those stupid facing seats that should be reserved for chamber-music quartets or families and never allocated to strangers. The American woman next to me was one of the most inconsiderate people I’ve had the misfortune to travel with: at one point I couldn’t see my partner, who was sitting in front of me, because I had a Guardian double spread before my eyes – and I wasn’t the one reading it! My Second Slap goes to her.
My Third Slap I’m awarding to the drunk who insulted me, and several other women, in French and English (he was surprisingly fluent in both languages), after I’d jumped to the rescue of the young Japanese woman (complete with cello and mute mother – she only spoke Japanese, I expect) he was pestering, while we were queuing for a taxi at the Gare du Nord. He became very offensive and for some reason attacked my hair – luckily, only verbally. Apparently, since I have white hair, I’m going to die soon so I should shut up. Nice! Finally, a young woman, who was even more bothered by him than I was, left her place in the queue (that showed how incensed she was: no one in their right mind would ever do that) and went to get the police. By then the man had gone. In the meantime, my partner and I had made a few friends in the queue, and chatting away with them made the next ten hours seem like minutes.
From then on, lots of mishaps, near misses, bag panics, scarf panics (whatever you do, never ever offer to carry someone else’s plastic bag in case they shoved their scarf into it when they boarded a bus, instead of putting it in their handbag as usual: you will save them the stress and humiliation of running after the bus they’ve just alighted from, shouting, ‘My scarf, my scarf, I left my – expensive, but reduced in TK Maxx, beautiful merino wool – scarf on the bus!’ only for them to find it in above-mentioned plastic bag after kind bus driver looks for it in vain and shrugs in very French manner), glove panics (N.B. Paris in December is cold, take pair of warm gloves: will save you having to hurriedly buy non-needed – because already three pairs at home – gloves in nearest Monoprix, when your ‘little hand is frozen’). Also, at your hotel, when you go down to breakfast on your last day, after you’ve exhorted your partner not to leave anything valuable in the room, do not place your handbag on the floor by your chair and go back up to your room, after drinking your first cup of tea (made with a redbush tea sachet you brought all the way from London because you don’t drink real tea or coffee), holding only your key and the croissant you intend to eat a bit later: your heart will stop beating completely when you realize, an hour later, just as you’re packing the last few things in your still uncool suitcase, that you are sans handbag, credit cards, passport, ticket, etc. You will have to fly down four flights of stairs, shrieking, ‘I left my handbag downstairs! I left my handbag downstairs! No, I’m not all right!’ (This last exclamation to the maid who’s cleaning one of the rooms and who’s just asked, ‘Ça va?’ as you’re zooming down the stairs.) Your heart will restart only when the hotel manager hands you your bag, which he retrieved from under the table an hour earlier but didn’t think to return to you as soon as. I guess my Fourth Slap goes to me – and him.
Last but not least, the Fifth Slap has to be awarded to a brasserie called Relais Paris Opéra (Rue Auber; make a note of it) for charging 9,40€ – that’s over £6.00 for a large (ok, a very large) coke. And £3.50 for a very small goat cheese with nothing else on the plate (you look for a few salad leaves, a couple of French fries, nope, nothing). It lies in wait for people who’ve been traipsing all over Paris in the cold and the rain and who are ready to drop and then it pounces. Stay away from it. You have been warned.
I suppose the rain deserves to be slapped too. It appeared on Saturday morning and didn’t let up all day. Everything takes twice as long in the rain and battling with dripping umbrellas is not my idea of fun. An English friend of mine, who, I discovered later, was in Paris just for the day, was even more unlucky than we were. At least Sunday was dry.
End of Slaps. Let the Hugs begin!
The Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées and elsewhere were absolutely lovely. The Eiffel Tower was soooo pretty, all glittery and twinkly. Tea at Angelina’s with my best friend and her 22-year-old daughter, whom I last saw when she was three days old, was delightful. Everyone we came across was very very nice: young waitresses, who, here in London would plonk stuff in front of you with a snarl, were charming and smiley, and café owners let us (well, me mostly) use their loos with a cheerful, ‘Mais, bien sûr, Madame!’ even though I never drank anything (I mention them because I became acquainted with an awful lot of those loos: my IBS flared up like crazy from day one – thanks to all the stress, as detailed above). It’s a myth that Parisian shopkeepers, etc. are sulky and unpleasant: for sulky and unpleasant you have to come to London.
At the Bazar de l’Hôtel-de-Ville (BHV to its friends) – the Parisian John Lewis, a most underrated department store that stocks practical items as well as objets de luxe, I found, at last, great zip-up nylon bags where my delicate sweaters will be protected from those pesky moths that have infested all our drawers. The BHV was crowded but, unlike the other Grands Magasins, it didn't make you lose the will to live.
And then there was the First Floor at the Salons du Palais-Royal (this will mean something to my Frag Board friends, everyone else will just have to remain puzzled), and being welcomed like a VIP there. Finally, the Ladurée cart, inside one of the entrances of the Printemps, and the two macaroons (one each) we managed to savour in a terrible draught, right under these lights. They were scrumptious.
End of Hugs. Resume Slaps.
The journey back was the most peaceful, restful, pleasant I’ve ever had on the Eurostar: it was very late and everyone was exhausted so not in the mood to chat or be noisy some other way. We got a cab pretty quickly and arrived back at our building to discover that the heating had broken down that day. That was Sunday night; this has been one of the coldest weeks yet (flights, etc. have been cancelled because of the freezing fog); the heating has only just been repaired. Life goes on…