There is something utterly depressing about leaving Paris for London on the Eurostar. Everything operates like clockwork.
On any other day, the Gare du Nord represents all that is wrong with Parisian bureaucracy. It promises interminable lines and proliferating pickpockets. In homage to their destination to the bowels of French hell, the elevators stop and start and taunt you in the heat. The signage is surely Mephistopheles’ design.
But Paris facilitates your departure with a smirk. It forces upon you the reality of the ephemeral, at once sad and magical – the two greatest trademarks of the city. And it’s tragic when the train crosses the border and you realise that you didn’t spend your last 3 Euros on French bread.
Watford is the UK’s witless response to my crack-like Paris addiction. In a single word, it says, “This is rehab baby – silence and the elderly”. Three weeks of sleepless wonder and overstimulation are quelled by suburban air and lethargic residents.
There’s a mall and a rose garden, which smells like wholesome picnics and safe British literature sampled on grey afternoons. There are snug little houses snoozing away at 1pm and there’s a country club with golf and Sunday roasts and pints of beer for two pounds. At the pub on the corner, a father plays pool with his two primary-aged sons. They’ve lived in that bar for six generations.
I read erotic prose stolen from a well-travelled aunt in the too-safe rose garden. My newbie smoker’s hack interrupts the quietude. Even the squirrels stop munching. I plot my escape by Tube. It costs me £56 for a weekly pass out of here. The over-55 couple with the dog opens up a picnic lunch.
I want happy hour, Euros, French men and cobbled streets that destroy my shoes. I want waiters that ignore you for forty minutes and those that will clear the best spot in the restaurant for a beautiful woman. The Eurostar gifts you a dual-tongued newspaper: a time-difference enforced extra hour and bitterness. Yet that is the virtue of a one-way ticket. Tomorrow, the search begins for the new ‘crack’.