Skip to main content

On making an unexpected visit to Lille

I was recently in Lille, and the most entertaining thing there was watching a pair of rats fight each other.

While that statement's true, it's rather unfair to Lille. I am biassed, as I had no intention to be in Lille (other than passing through). To be precise, I was on the Eurostar train from Brussels to London. Things didn't start brilliantly, but at Lille they went spectacularly wrong.

We had left Brussels about an hour late, allegedly because an electrical problem meant that the check-in went down for a few minutes. (It wasn't clear why this fault, which happened when most of the travellers had already checked-in, should stop everyone boarding, but that's how it went.) But we were soon in Lille, where we were joined by a bunch of people from Disneyland Paris (so quite a lot of young travellers) and expected to be whisked off at 200 mph any time soon. Only, we weren't.

Waiting on the platform after being turfed off
We sat in the train for some time, before the inhabitants of coaches 10 to 18 were asked to get off the train, taking all their luggage with them. This was apparently because there was a 'trespasser' on the train. As might be imagined, it took quite a while for nearly 700 passengers to disembark, whereon we stood around on the platform for about half an hour, during which time the main entertainment was people suddenly realising that they really did need to take their bags off and nipping back on to get them while being shouted at by staff. This climaxed with a Eurostar staff member casually carting a large rucksack around, asking if it belonged to anyone (apparently not concerned that it might be a suspicious item).

Eventually, they opened the doors to the upper floor, and we gradually shuffled up, across the Lille concourse past bemused ordinary train travellers to the Eurostar check-in, where we had to show our tickets and go through security and both French and UK passport control again. (Interestingly given we'd been through Belgian and UK passport control in Brussels, so were technically in the UK when on the train, we must have magically travelled from the UK to France when we were allowed off the platform.)

Not bad emergency rations
We then entered the Eurostar lounge, where there was a huge pile of cardboard boxes, containing quite a generous set of emergency rations. And there we sat for some considerable time, with the aforementioned fighting rats outside the window (bouncing around amazingly) for entertainment. After a while, the other half of the train also entered the lounge which was therefore both very hot and seriously overcrowded with around 1,400 stoic travellers in it.

After an hour or two (I'm not sure exactly how long, though the train eventually arrived in London 4 1/4 hours late) the doors from the lounge onto the platform opened and we shuffled back onto the train.

In many ways, Eurostar handled this well, but the huge error, which seems so common when travel customer service goes wrong, was the total lack of communication. Once we entered the lounge there were no announcements. No one spoke to us. Even when we went back onto the train, it was just a case of noticing people starting to move - there was no information whatsoever. We never heard how the 'trespasser' got on the train.

The lesser complaint was that the compensation was pretty meagre. I recently had a several hour delay at Paddington (coincidentally also due to to trespassers, though this time on the line) and GWR compensated me by fully refunding my return ticket. Eurostar gave us 50% of the one way fare. And, like many others, we had missed our onward connections, which aren't covered. The worst we heard of was a troupe of child dancers who missed the last train to Liverpool and had to find accommodation in London for the night.

Communication is the absolute lifeblood of good customer service. Eurostar have demonstrated (as airlines also so often do) that failing to communicate does not leave you in a good light. Get your act together, guys.


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Best writing advice

I saw on Twitter the other day (via someone I know answering it), the question 'What's the best writing advice you would give to someone who wants to become a writer?' My knee-jerk response was 'Don't do it, because you aren't one.' What I mean by this is that - at least in my personal experience - you don't become a writer. Either you are one, or you aren't. There's plenty of advice to be had on how to become a better writer, or how to become a published writer... but certainly my case I always was one - certainly as soon as I started reading books.  While I was at school, I made comics. I wrote stories.  My first novel was written in my teens (thankfully now lost). I had a first career that wasn't about being a writer, but I still wrote in my spare time, sending articles off to magazines and writing a handful of novels. And eventually writing took over entirely. If you are a writer, you can't help yourself. You just do it. I'm writ