Thursday, 24 October 2019

Foggy weather. Foggy thinking. Channel tunnel thoughts.

As predicted, yesterday’s sunshine disappeared into a wet mess overnight. As we walked home from a visit to one of our local bars-with-wifi late yesterday evening it was bright and clear and more than a little chilly. This morning, however, most of the city had disappeared into the murk. When I went out first thing it was not so much walking in the rain as walking in the middle of a cloud. My phone’s weather app promises sun and cloud for tomorrow though, so we shall see what comes of such promises!

The fogginess around here has maybe spread itself to Westminster as I read that Boris Johnson’s cabinet are divided over how to proceed with Brexit, and the prime minister has to choose between pressing ahead with his deal or gambling his premiership on a pre-Christmas general election. I was about to say that the old Chinese curse about living in interesting times was working, but in fact it’s all got rather boring now.

In the United States it seems that the Republicans, or some of them at any rate, are intent on making things more interesting by “storming” a closed-door committee hearing on Capitol Hill in the impeachment inquiry. They were chanting “Let us in!” and tweeting updates from their phones. This should come as no surprise to us. A prodigious amount of chanting went on during Mr Trump’s election campaign and he so much likes tweeting that it almost seems like an alternative form of government.

A tweetocracy?

It’s almost 25 years since the first Eurostar train reached Paris, not going quite so fast as my daughter-in-law reported their train to be going last Friday. Apparently the idea of a tunnel under the Channel was first mooted in 1802, when a French mining engineer, Albert Mathieu-Favier first proposed a tunnel involving horse drawn carriages and oil lamps. This scheme and several others were surveyed and abandoned. In 1881 digging began but soon stopped as British politicians, backed up by the press, stirred up fears of an invasion. Politicians and press don’t change much, do they? Just over a hundred years later Thatcher and Mitterand agreed on the construction of the tunnel and there it now is. Since then over 200 million passengers have travelled on the Eurostar – including the Queen, presidents, prime ministers, Beatles and Rolling Stones, ambassadors, Wags, fans, and a lot of ordinary people.

A Guardian reporter spoke to some of those passengers, and the people who helped them travel. Here’s part of one person’s experience, a writer and railway historian:

 “I was a passenger on the first train to Paris The most disappointing thing was that you never actually saw the sea: it’s because of the way the tunnel had to start in front of a hill on the British side and takes you quite a way beyond Calais. It’s a brilliant piece of railway engineering: I’ve travelled in the cab, an amazing experience. But the other great disappointment is that Brexit has happened. Despite the fact you can hop on the Eurostar and end up in France, it hasn’t made us feel more European. “

I have only been through the tunnel twice, going to France and back with a bunch of sixth form students. We almost persuaded some of the more gullible students that if they watched carefully they might see fish as we went under the sea!! For brief moment they believed!

This is perhaps the oddest of the various travellers’ tales:-

 “I had sex on the Eurostar and founded the 45 Metre Underground Club I was with my girlfriend – it was 2011, we hadn’t been going out long. It was a morning train. I think we did have a drink on the train, but we were very much in control of our senses. I had the idea as we were heading out of St Pancras. She didn’t take much persuasion: it was a sort of pioneering thing. I imagine we weren’t the first to do it, but we were the first to do it in the spirit of this new club we wanted to set up.
The Mile High Club is aspirational: what could be sexier and naughtier than sex on a plane? But now flight shame puts the Mile High Club in a different light. The 45 Metre Underground Club is the low-carbon option. But you have to be doing it when you are under the Channel. Honestly, I think we were in there for about five or 10 minutes, before emerging gingerly but extremely pleased with ourselves. I would absolutely recommend it. There is a huge body of water above you, you are hurtling along at high speed through a dark tunnel under the Channel, knowing you are on a low-carbon adventure.
 *************, founder of the Ecohustler online magazine, lives in Frome, Somerset.”

I wonder how Eurostar travel will be affected by Brexit. My son tells me there is now a rather imposing-looking “borderforce” at the Gare du Nord end of the Eurostar. Let’s hope it doesn’t stop people enjoying that bit of once-cooperative travel organisation.

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