I recently went to Charleville-Mézières in the Champagne-Ardennes region – it’s famous for hosting the World Puppet Festival and it is also a very beautiful town.
I went direct from London where I had been visiting my family and took the Eurostar to Gare du Nord with Rail Europe. Whenever I do the London to Paris journey, I nearly always go on a Friday morning so I travel with the weekend people, the happy people I call them. The business travellers always look miserable and it reminds me that I used to be one of them! Now of course I am a butler to cats, dogs, chickens, geese and ducks and an impoverished writer…
There was a frisson of excitement (understatement) on that Friday as one David Beckham was travelling on the train. I didn’t get to see him, journalist though I am, I hate that scrum of everyone pushing and generally acting like hooligans, besides I seem to always be at the back – I’m not a professional photographer and I think they have lessons in pushing in!
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be that famous and living in a fish bowl with everyone peering in. I’ve met lots of famous people – Nelson Mandela, Jack Lemmon, Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean), Christine Keeler (Profumo) – all sorts of people famous for all sorts of different things but none of them seem to induce quite the hysteria that Posh and Becks do.
On the train the steward asked if I needed a taxi at the other end. I had a case and my camera equipment which was quite heavy – although I’m not a pro I do like to take photos as you might know by now. I thought about grabbing a taxi to Gare de l’Est where I was picking up my next train. But it was a nice day, the steward assured me I’d be paying €20 to sit in traffic instead of enjoying a leisurely 10 minute walk and I took his advice.
As usual, a comfortable journey, a buffet breakfast, free magazines (business class!) and the Parisian lady sitting on the other side of the train kept me entertained. It was unwitting on her part – she was talking into a Dictaphone machine – I’m not sure if it was to her lover or she was writing a romantic book but she was very enthusiastic with her “mon amour”, “mon cheri” and other such endearments punctuated with “oohs” and “ahs”. The weird thing was this was all done with her lying down Roman style across the seats, dipping her croissant right into her coffee and scoffing it noisily. She didn’t turn her dictaphone off for her slurping noises – I shudder to think what it must have sounded like to anyone who played the recording back.
Wandering through the streets of Paris to Gare de l’Est was no problem – it really isn’t that far, the sun was shining and it was nice to get a bit of city air! I stopped for a coffee in a typical Paris café and sat watching people walking by, going about their day to day business – Paris is brilliant if you’re a people watcher!
At Gare de l’Est I took the train to Reims then changed for the train to Charleville Mezieres – pretty uneventful but I did find it strange that every door on the train to Reims was manned by station staff welcoming passengers on board wearing uniforms that look like they were designed by Calvin Klein – so smart – so Paris…
The platform at Reims was absolutely jam-packed with jolly puppet fans going the same way as me – a bit of a party atmosphere prevailed until the announcement that the train would be 25 minutes late.
The mood changed in an instant. I hadn’t understood the muffled tannoy announcement but everyone got their mobiles out, there was a collective loud sigh, people started mooching around and lit cigarettes. Yes you can still smoke on the platform in France – unlike the UK. I asked a woman what was going on – 25 minutes late she said, as it if was the end of the world!
Eventually we got on the train and squeezed in and I arrived at Charleville-Mezieres, booked into my crazy hotel and went off to witness the inauguration of the 2013 World Puppet Festival!