Mid august 1997, I had just finished working on a physically demanding film location catering contract, I think it was on Spice World, but then again I may be wrong, my memory of that period is slightly frosted. The movie was, sadly, nothing to do with the world of exotic culinary herbs and spices, nor was it a keyhole view into the seedy erotic scene of the sex trade. No, it was a demonstration of how clever men could market any commodity, even five not especially talented singers.
Anyway, I was in dire need of a little fun so with the help of my friend David, who had a chum in the Eurostar office, I left Waterloo Station early one morning clutching a £99 first class day return to Paris, France.
As we sped through the English countryside at 6.30am, the sun was already warming the lush meadows and a very fine full English breakfast was being served. This used to be the norm on the early morning trains between Glasgow and London; a proper dining car complete with galley kitchen and white gloved waiters bringing pots of piping hot tea, golden toast dripping with butter and plates laden with bacon, sausages, eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms. This was pre quinoa and microwaved bacon butties in a polythene bag!!!!
Breakfast dispatched, I settled back into my very comfortable seat and pondered the awesome noise blocking properties of the triple glazed windows; they completely baffled all exterior sound. We entered the tunnel, I had been slightly apprehensive about traveling under the Channel but this was the most serene journey on rails I’d ever experienced. In fact, the train was so smooth and silent I found it hard to believe it when the driver announced we were now travelling at 185mph. This could only happen on the French side as the tracks back in the UK were not suitable for high speed travel. I wonder if it’s still the same today?
If you travel with your car on the Eurostar nowadays you can surf the web and talk on your phone 20,000 leagues under the sea…. Try that driving up Hope Street. Again, we can admire the French for their advanced telecommunications.
We arrive mid morning in the centre of Paris. I jump into a cab and ask for a whirlwind tour of the obvious tourist attractions whilst coaxing my appetite in readiness for a lavish and luxurious lunch.
Notre Dame done I ask to be taken to the Taillevent, it was closed. Arghhhh. Never mind, let’s go to La Tour d’Argent. Shite, shutters are down. The penny drops, it’s August and Paris is closed for the annual summer holiday, a fact that I’m certain had not escaped the knowledge of my grinning cabbie as his meter whirred, clicked and cachinged. “Where do I go to eat driver?” “You will need to eat in a ‘otel, Monsieur.” “Take me to The Ritz!”
The Ritz is palatial, everyone is eating cake here. I’m taken to a leafy courtyard, my table for one is in the centre of this sunlit square. I’m surrounded by elegant waiters in starched white aprons, Louis Armstrong is crooning away on the sound system and I’ve ordered a Scottish lobster for my lunch, life is perfect. The sommelier looks familiar, I ask him where I may have met him before; it transpires he used to be in charge of wines in the Moulin de Mougins on the outskirts of Cannes, the legendary restaurant of the fabled Roger Vergé. In a former life our family holidays were spent in Juan Les Pins. I often disappeared for quiet lunches to the Moulin; sitting in the conservatory, surrounded by original Picasso’s, as giant French poodles sat on chairs at tables ate their lunch alongside their masters whilst the scent of rosemary wafted in from the herb garden and cast an intoxicating spell.
My Parisian lunch was every bit as enchanting but all too soon it’s over. On my way out I stop by the toilets, don’t want to be caught short on the streets of the city of love. Help ma boab!!!! The lavvy is like a throne. I only need a pee but feel obliged to sit this one out as I may never again have this opportunity.
Back out on the street, I find myself approaching the Louvre in the scorching mid afternoon heat. Always eager for a little culture I head inside but it’s so warm after 20 minutes I give up, leave and join the throngs outside for a paddle in the fountain.
It’s a couple of hours since lunch so I stop at a little street café for afternoon tea. Filling my chops with delicate savoury then sweet pastries I have the smug look of a Cheshire Cat.
Time to head back to the station, it’s a one day return ticket remember.
I’d completely forgotten that as I’m in first class dinner will be served. A very fine repast it was too; pate de foie gras, beef fillet and some very delicious Reblochon as I hurtle north through the wild French countryside.
Back at Waterloo I realise I have time, with a bit of luck, to catch the last shuttle home to Glasgow from Heathrow. That is exactly what I did.
As I’m sat in the back of the taxi back to Glasgow’s West End I feel compelled to round off my day of delectation with a Scottish titbit of some considerable merit. ‘Driver, please just let me out here.” I’m at the University Café Chippie, “steak pie supper, loads of salt and vinegar and two pickled onions please.” I devour this deep fried delight as I stroll leisurely up Byers Road.
My memory of this trip has only one sad point. Two weeks later, Princess Diana left the same Ritz Hotel on her final and fateful car journey.