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eurostar commuters

February 21, 2007

Eurostar-1.jpgI am in London on a lightening 24-hour visit. In the morning I visit Harley Street to interview a cosmetic surgeon for a piece I am writing on men and cosmetic surgery. The surgeon’s particular speciality is penoplasty and I spend most of my 45 minutes with him trying to appear professional and po-faced while discussing penis size and erections with a stranger.

I may be imagining it, but despite being a medical professional, he seems slightly embarrassed too. I am tempted to ask if he has any before and after pictures - well, it’s important that my readers know what they can expect for their money - but decide that this might seem a little prurient.

Afterwards, I head to Waterloo to catch the 13.41pm Eurostar to Paris. As usual, I ignore my allocated seat number and wheel my trolley down to the front of the train, so as to be as close as possible to the taxi queue at the Gare de Nord. [All regular Eurostar commuters do this.] I am laden down with two enormous bags, filled with supplies from M&S food hall, and do not want to run the risk that I will have to stagger along half a mile of platform with them at the other end. [Eurostar frequently plays a game with passengers, called ‘hide the trolleys’ and often, just to keep us really on our toes, there are none at all.]

The Eurostar is packed so I spend the journey perched on a seat in the corridor. Half an hour before we are due to arrive at Gare de Nord, I strike up a conversation with an English woman, sitting opposite, who it transpires, lives about 40 minutes from me, near Poitiers. We are discussing how much we dislike a certain budget airline and the ridiculously heavy-handed new airport security laws, which have put us both off flying.

'Personally, I’d rather run the risk of being blown to bits by a liquid bomb than be frisked for my bottle of mineral water very time I fly,' I say. My new friend agrees. It’s a control thing. Recently, the security staff at Stansted or Shabsted as I prefer to call it, had been so busy searching for potentially explosive lipsticks and lethal bottles of mineral water, that they missed a giant pair of sharp-pointed scissors lurking at the bottom of my Mulberry Elgin bag. I was shocked to find them mid-flight.

A guy also perched on a seat in the corridor, puts down his mobile phone and joins in our conversation. ‘If it’s any consolation,’ he says. ‘I’m a pilot and we get frisked for mineral water too.’ It turns out that he is a regular Eurostar commuter too. He lives near Tours but travels back to the UK once every few weeks, to fly long-haul for a popular transatlantic British airline. It’s gratifying to find that he also thinks that the new liquid restrictions are a nonsense.

‘If someone was really determined to smuggle a bomb on board a plane, they would find a way,’ he says. ‘And as you have already pointed out, you can take absolutely anything you like on the Eurostar, which is a massive security threat.’

He asks if I would like to share a cab to Montparnasse station [to catch our respective TGV’s south] and during the journey he tells me that he has banned his family from flying a very well-known budget airline for safety reasons. [I haven’t named it for libel reasons, but I think you can work it out]. He tells me a number of alarming facts, including the fact that this particular airline runs to such tight margins that it takes off and lands in conditions that others would consider too dangerous.

As we part company in the ticket hall, he says: ‘Seriously, if I were you I would think twice before flying that airline in the future.’

Today I wore: black appliquéd skirt by Prada; grey TSE cashmere cardigan;black cashmere cropped jacket by Jaeger London; and leopard print court shoes by Emma Hope.

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