Caunes-Minervois, Languedoc, South of France.
First news from the holiday front in Caunes-Minervois somewhere in the glorious French quarter of the European Union, where even the dogs in the street are more charming and have more chic than our mangy old British dogs. My brother and I arrived here rather later than expected, but the house we are renting is very pleasant. Newly-renovated with imagination, the only drawback is that it doesn’t have a terrace of any kind, but as it is narrow, but on five floors, sandwiched in a very old part of town, there isn’t very much room for a terrace.
The journey was, unfortunately, rather fraught, partly due to an excessively zealous ticket inspector on the train to Gatwick Airport from London, partly due to my brother playing a prank which rather went awry and partly due to my satnav proving to be totally bloody useless in this neck of the woods.
We climbed aboard the Gatwick train at Clapham Junction to find that it was jam-packed with bright young things on their way to the Isle of Wight festival, all with bulky backpacks. We happened to have entered the train in a first-class compartment and started to make our way through to second-class (also euphemistcally known as ‘standard class’ - do euphemism fool anyone? And if they don’t, and I suspect they don’t, why do we bother using them?).
The train was so packed that I suggested we sit down and wait for the passageway to clear, but we were barely out of the station when what appeared to be the ticket inspector appeared with a sidekick and when he discovered we had second-class (i.e. standard-class) tickets, he immediately told us we had to upgrade. I pointed out that we were on our way to find space in a second-class compartment and that at that point it was impossible to move but he was having none of it and insisted that we would have to pay up. I refused and he said in that case he would have to call the police. I told him I would look forward to meeting them. At that point my brother, who dislikes confrontation, caved in and agreed to pay for an upgrade.
Later, I the real ticket inspector turned up and revealed that the chap we had encountered was in fact a Southern Railways ‘revenue protection’ officer who are overzealous bastards. If he had had his way, he would have declared the train ‘class-free’ given the crowds in it everywhere. The fact that the first chap was not a ticket inspector but a ‘revenue protection’ officer clarified something which had earlier puzzled me: I told him what had happened was ridiculous and that I would be getting in touch with his commanding officer or whatever they call them in the railways. What, I asked him was his name. He told me willingly and helpfully pointed out that I should also have ‘his number’ which was printed on his name tag.
This struck me as a little odd because he hadn’t otherwise been overly keen to assist me, but when I told him I would write to Southern Railways to tell them what an officious little cunt he had been, he was eager to make it as easy for me as possible. Why? I’ll tell you why: because he wanted his commanding officer to know what an officious little cunt he had been and would probably be praised for so assiduously protecting Southern Railways revenue. Well, fuck that: I shall now make a point of not complaining to Southern Railways and not telling them what an officious bastard he was. See how he likes that! Thinks he can get clever with me!
When we got to Gatwick, I happened to be in the corridor between two coaches talking to the real ticket inspector. So my brother collected our bags and my laptop and got off without alerting me we had arrived. He thought it would be a wheeze for me to have to carry on to the next station, which I had to. The trouble was that once, 20 minutes later, I had got back to Gatwick, I could see no sign of him or our bags anywhere on the platform. Thinking he must already have gone into the South Terminal, I went there too, and could still see no sign of him. Up and down I walked, closely scrutinising the queue lining up to check in to their easyjet flight, back to the other end in case he was looking for me, off to the information desk to get them to give out a Mayday announcement asking the little creep to make himself known, but none of it was of any use, and time was running out before we were due to board our plance.
Finally, I realised he might still be somewhere in the station part of the terminal and went back and got the railway information desk to ask him to make himself known. Sure enough, he had been waiting we me on the platform all the time and we simply missed each other when arrived for the second time. He was all excuses and explanations, telling me this and that and why he hadn’t told me to get off at Gatwick, but it was all bollocks. He knew it, I knew it, he knew that I knew it, and I knew that he knew that I knew he knew it. I’m just glad we get along well, because for about ten minutes I was bloody furious.
My mood was not improved, either, when we eventually did get around to dropping off our bags. I had checked in online but - apparently - forgotten to check in our two bags. That would have cost £16 had I done so earlier. As it was easyjet took me for a cool £50.