“Can you be here for 9.30?”
“Yes, that’s no problem,” I reply. “With the Eurostar it’s less than three hours.”
This is the official line: from leaving the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord to arriving at Waterloo International is less than three hours. But who has a meeting at Waterloo station? Once you add on the travel time at each end and check in, it feels like you have been awake for days before you reach the meeting room.
Knowing I won’t be able to sleep on the train I plan the night before in meticulous detail to maximise the amount of time I can spend in bed the following morning.
I decide that it’s about time I hemmed my suit trousers properly instead of just leaving them tacked up with safety pins, so I spend twenty minutes trying to make sure the stitches in not-quite-the-right-blue-but-all-I’ve-got-at-short-notice cotton don’t show. I try them on. They are a bit too short to wear with heels – which is a good thing, as it means I don’t have to clean my posh shoes. I opt for flats with blue flowers on instead, which go better with the trouser length, and put them by the door.
I fold up the top I am going to wear and put it in my laptop bag. Then I get out a reasonably smart T-shirt I can wear for the journey instead. Previous experience with croissants has shown me there is no way I can manage not to get crumbs all over myself, so changing into my ‘proper’ outfit on the train has become second nature. All the other things I’ll need are laid out or packed: a wrap as it’s freezing at that time in the morning and I’ll be taking my suit jacket off as soon as I get on the train, my make-up bag, tickets, passport. I wash and blow dry my hair, hoping it will hold the style.
At 5.45 the next morning I roll over and turn my alarm off.
At 6 am I get up and am on the metro for 6.10 am. Then the day really starts: speeding through check-in, working on the train, rushing on the underground to get to the office in time. I dash from one conversation to the next, stopping five minutes before each one to touch up my make-up and compose myself. I always try to fit too much in when I go to London, but all the meetings go well and I’m at my hotel at 6.30, in time to watch the end of Masterchef.
Saturday starts at a different pace. I take the underground to Southgate, north of London, which feels a world away. I’m not sure I’ll be welcomed back by those residents on the Piccadilly Line though, after squealing, ‘Look at all the little houses, it’s like a proper town!’ as the tube popped out overground. Suffice to say I had not visited that bit of London before.
I meet a friend and we eat huge slices of carrot cake in an Italian deli before getting back on the tube to Shaftesbury Avenue. We just make it to the theatre in time to collect our tickets and queue for the toilets (was the theatre built before women went to the theatre? I have rarely been in a theatre with such inadequate facililites) before the house lights go down.
Equus was fantastic. Richard Griffiths stole the show for me with all the best lines. Jenny Agutter had a great trouser suit but her part was a bit weak. And of course, there were other good bits too.
Then the pace picks up again: dash to the hotel, collect my bags, taxi to the station and back on the train.
At Gare du Nord, someone stops in front of me to light a cigarette, even though it’s now illegal. I dodge the men waiting to catch tourists with their bus ticket scam – I couldn’t look more foreign with my Asda carrier bag and a rolled up copy of The Guardian. The display boards tell me it will be five minutes before another train comes along. In that time I’m treated to a chorus of homeless people shouting at each other across the tracks. When I finally make it my front door, some dog, or someone, has urinated up the wall and I lift my suitcase over the trickle.
It’s good to be home.