Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Buy-Off

Hurtling through northern France on High Speed 1 — or HS1 as I constantly see in the brochures — I wonder if I’m a one.

I’ve been musing on atavistic parochialism.

How could this in any way be related to moi? I live and work between Paris and London; I studied French and German at university, hell I’ve even lived in Karlsruhe.

But when it comes down to it. Am I just a south London boy at heart?

What launched me on this quest for inner enlightenment was Sunday night. I arrived at the flat where I grew up and the calf injury sustained during my self-styled heroics on the football field on Saturday morning began to feel better.

Is there a mystical energy in Streatham that revivifies the locals? Perhaps. But at any rate its centripetal forces didn’t replenish me enough to be able to run for a bus on Monday morning. It was more of Quasimodo like gallop.

But on Monday morning I did feel considerably better. And then there was the preparation for the podcast interview on the south bank and a plangent cry for the lost terminal at Waterloo. Face facts Paul. You're Clapham-born and Streatham-bred.

It might explain my brooding brow during the journey to St Pancras International from home in south London. It is much longer. But I cannot argue about the voyage to central Paris — that is spectacularly shorter.

And it’s going to get sweeter the longer the Business Premier Lounge is under construction at St Pancras International.

Outside the room where it will be eventually housed, there was a long table containing a crop of national newspapers.

Genial Eurostar staff ushered travellers to the fruit bowls and soft drinks on the flank and a particularly well-groomed young Eurostar suit was spending time apologising to an equally well-buffed woman.

“How long is it going to take to finish?” she inquired.

“Well, two weeks ago it was completed,” lounged the suit. “But then there were some problems with the heating. And the thing is with this building….and quite rightly so…you can’t touch anything without English Heritage being there. So that’s what’s causing the delay. We hope it will be ready before Christmas.”

Maybe HS1 really stands for High Smarm One.

The way he was looking at this lady, you felt he’d like to obtain her telephone number for heritage purposes.

And who could blame him for she did indeed look lovely even at six in the morning.

As I went to get my bottle of water I thought that his kind of smooth patter deserved its rewards.

But that was before I encountered the mother of all pitches.

I was handed a large white envelope. It didn’t contain money sadly but a message from the chief executive Richard Brown.

“Dear traveller," it began chummily.

"Welcome to St Pancras International and thank you for choosing to travel with Eurostar today.

"I am delighted that you are among the very first of our valued travellers to benefit from high speed train travel, direct from the centre of London to Continental Europe.”

Well obviously there I’d disagree since St Pancras International doesn’t seem that central to me. But this is about me embracing fresh concepts and spaces.

“At the present moment finishing touches are being made to our new Business Premier Lounge, so I am very sorry that this service is not available for you today.

"I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the natural inconvenience and disappointment.

"I hope you will accept the enclosed gift voucher as a gesture of apology and thanks for your understanding for the delay to the opening of the Lounge.”

Said voucher is for a gift box of fine wines and I am to contact Tordoffs, Eurostar’s wine importers, to arrange delivery.

Well that’s mighty neighbourly as a Western gunslinger might intone.

But could I be won over by such crude gimmickry? While I was on the cusp of succumbing I thought a glib renaming of the Bee Gees song — How cheap is your love? might bolster my scepticism.

No. Not really. It's too good a deal.

Not even a staunch south London boy can look a northern gift box in the mouth.

Especially if that's where the contents will end up.