A very refreshing holiday that began with a Eurostar enroute to Amsterdam and finished in Avignon concluded yesterday with the return home. The TGV was supposed to deliver us to Lille about 40 minutes before the Eurostar connection for London. The turmoil at the freight terminal that had suspended services just two days before we had set out seemed to be over. For once there were no strikes by French lorry drivers, blockades of the terminals by fishermen or action by air traffic controllers (and that must be pretty rare). But of course a smooth journey home following our memorable cruising across Europe was never going to happen.
Avignon has a gleaming new station dedicated to the high speed services. In a few months Eurostars will be running there. Despite the heatwave it was reasonably cool as we we waited for the arrival of the train that was starting in Marseille. I noted, with that queasy but undefinable feeling of unease familiar to experienced travellers, that all the preceding TGVs were flagged as 5 or 10 minutes late, though ours was not. But it arrived late and it seemed to dawdle for a quite a bit and then as we pulled out of Lyon we slowed to a crawl and, having crossed the Rhone, stopped dead. Not necessarily a problem, you might think. Then the lights went out. Followed by the air conditioning. This is a problem, you would think and, my friend, you would be entirely correct. I became very uneasy when, after about ten minutes of nothing, a man looking a bit like Superintendent Drefyus' assistant in the Pink Panther films walked down the track as if looking for his keys which he was pretty sure he had dropped somewhere in the vicinity. About ten minutes later he walked back. I could not determine if he had found his keys. The lights and aircon came back on. And then we creaked away, with a muttered apology over the loudspeaker about "technical problems".
The train was very fast after that but unable to make up any of the lost time. We played with emergency strategies, including moving our luggage to the doors to make a really fast getaway in the hope of racing down into the Eurostar departure lounge in time to shout "hold that train". But it was not to be. With exquisite timing, as we debarked at Lille on one platform, we saw our Eurostar leave from the one adjacent.
Actually the Eurostar people were very good. Knowing that there were delays on the TGV connections, they were fast to give us tickets on the next train out, and we were lucky that there was plenty of room on it, and we arrived at St. Pancras having missed the rush hour which was a sort of bonus.
This is not the first time I have had to moan about the TGV service. It's a bit like my days commuting on the Piccadilly. You just know something will screw you up.