The phrase “bad day at the office” seems to mean a connection between work and a bad time but this can happen for whatever reason, at whatever place. Yesterday it happened to me on holiday through a combination of bad service, bad weather and bad luck.
The plan was an over night stay at Sanary Sur Mer, a pretty little port not far from Marseilles, where my ex Mireillle has settled. This involved what should have been an easy train journey from Nice with one change at Toulon to the local branch line.
Given that my last journey on French railways resulted in the loss of my wallet, I was a tad nervous and my godson Jamie who, accompanying us on the trip with his mother, had recently achieved green belt status offered his services as my bodyguard. I was equally assured to see the presence of 3 security officers by the platform.
Confusingly there were two trains on the board scheduled for Toulon at 10.00. On asking at the information kiosk we were told our carriage was directly ahead of us. We duly boarded without incident but it transpired we were in the wrong seat and carriage.
The train had no interconnecting passage so at the next station we alighted, asked a guard who wanted to see our tickets and, by the time he inspected them, informed us that our carriage was at the front of the train it was time to re-board more or less where we alighted.
There were no signs in the compartment, no one to ask, so we stayed where we were.
At Toulon we disembarked for the local train.
Again no communication and at Sanary station Mireille was waiting in a downpour and her taxi now had to leave. No others were available. It’s a tedious story but of some relevance as the French railways are nationalised and I can see no improvement compared to our system; rather, just like the 1970s, it seems to exist for the benefit of its workforce, currently on strike, not its passengers.
The weather was atrocious, a combination of driving rain and high wind. I was planning a fishing trip for my godson but this was out of the question. The day was saved by the kindness and hospitality of Mireille and her cousins, one of whom – Regine – was summoned to the station and duly assumed the role of taxi driver. The other cousin Catherine invited us for tea, happily a fine Bourgogne Aligote was served, so Jamie could meet their grandson Baptiste a lad of his age. After initial shyness the two kids got on well and we left them there to return to the hotel driven there by Regine.
We had an interesting chat mainly about Vietnam where Mireille, Regine and another guest had visited and is one of my favourite countries. More disaster was not long off as the parking machine in the multi-storey refused to accept Catherine’s husband ticket and we were stuck there behind the barrier for another 15 minutes.
Trying to take a positive of the day I have to say how helpful and warm everyone was and I am reassessing my attitude to the French.