We arrived at Gare Lille-Europe the next day, said goodbye to Pascale, got onto the Eurostar.
There, I incredibly awkwardly hit on a girl, who immediately stopped talking to me.
Other than that, the only thing I have to say about the day is that travelling, especially when it comes to England, is the worst. I would experience this again at New Year’s, but, to make a long story short (O, that I could have done that at the beginning of this sprawling blog), the English are just about as bad as Nashvillians when it comes to dealing with snow. You’d think they wouldn’t have any problems with the stuff, since they live in an area of the world that was once known to attract Vikings like nerds to World of WarCraft, but... I don’t know. Maybe some unknown gene deteriorated since the medieval era. Maybe that gene was responsible for the English acknowledging that snow is simply rain that froze way up in the atmosphere and, along the way, turned into the fluffy bits of stuff in which people like to pack ice and try to kill each other. If that’s true, however, that means that that gene is also lacking in every person who was born in the Southeast United States. And, if that’s true, I believe that I should get a MacArthur Genius Grant just for the hypothesis, and start working—post haste—in some well-lit lab in Harvard at this very moment.
Those thoughts flashed through my mind as The Student and I stood in the Godawful cold and good, British wind at Ashford International. Our train was late—thirty minutes late—and the group of travelers we were among stared at nothing but the yellow box up on the wall that showed us how miserable we would be.
The digital numbers on the right, under EXPECTED, flickered. People gasped. They reappeared. It would be thirty-two minutes late. The reactions ranged from resigned sighs to, in the case of one balding old man with glasses and an aura of absolute insanity, an open string of obscenities so vile that a baby across the platform exploded into shrieks. I clapped—golf clapped, mind you; I didn’t want to get this man’s attention—and The Student glared at me.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “Don’t do that, the crazy bastard will hear you and come over here.”
“Oi!” shouted the guy, talking to another man who stood next to him. The other guy was wearing a green jacket, blue jeans, black shoes, and had earbuds in his ears.
He took the earbuds out. “Sorry mate?”
“Fuck off,” said the old man. “Don’t ‘sorry’ me, you cunt. I saw you lookin at my bike. Well fuck off, it’s my bike you little bastard.”
The other guy’s eyes widened and he backed away, towards the cafe.
The old man glared at him all the way and, when the other man was in the cafe, the old man turned to the next person nearby—a harried-looking banker-type in a nice suit, wire-frame glasses, and holding a black briefcase—and said, “Fuckin see that? Tryin to cozy up to my fuckin bike that bugger was. Fuck off, I said to him, didn’t I?”
“Ah,” I said to The Student, “back in England.”
The Student grunted. “Yes. Back in the land of chavs and pasties.” He sighed and pulled out his cell phone. “Yep,” he said, “I have to set up my study carrol tomorrow; check out seven books that are on reserve before Templeman sends them back to God-knows-where; check out three more books that they pulled out of the archives; and—”
“Archives?” I asked. “How old are the books?”
“They were published last year,” said The Student. He readjusted his glasses. “Templeman, or so I’ve been told by an inside source, is slowly shifting into a position to make itself not the library of the university, but, instead, the IT hub.”
“Sinister,” I said. “But it makes so much sense. The fact that there are only two librarians on staff. The presense of thirty IT workers on the second floor. The slowly-shrinking amount of books in the stacks, while the number of computers irrevocably increases.”
The Student solemnly nodded. “Say,” he said, dropping his voice, “I think you might be interested in this. There’s a group of us in the Literature, Medieval Civ, and Creative Writing M.A.s who are joining together to put a stop to this.”
“Oh, yes. We’re planning a—” he looked around, presumably for agents of the University. “We’re planning an occupation of Templeman. Nothing major, just something to get the University’s attention. Maybe hold the head of IT hostage.”
“Woah, seriously? I don’t know...”
“Narrator, think about who I’m talking about. A bunch of nerds in black sweaters and glasses. We’re not going to hurt anyone.” He sighed. “In all honesty, people probably won’t even realize we’re occupying anything. You don’t get very far unless you’re doing something like that for some irrelevant political statement.”
“Like the NYU kids?”
“Like the NYU kids, exactly. Anyway, consider it. We meet on alternating Thursdays down at Coffee and Corks. If nothing else, you might meet a single girl and hit it off.”
“Eh,” I said.
“Okay, Diogenes, whatever,” he said.
“Attention,” said the ominous, Essex-ish voice on the loudspeaker. “There will be a train bound for Ramsgate and Margate via Canterbury West arriving at platform 2-b in ten minutes. Southeastern apologises for any inconvenience, but will not do anything to compensate you for our slovenliness in preparing for half an inch of snow. Thank you.”
The crowd erupted into cheers. I smiled. At least I wouldn’t have to wait in the cold for another half an hour. And, who knew, the madman to my right might entertain us all some more by threatening pigeons, or something.
Fifteen minutes later, we were on the train. The Student and I managed to push our way through the crush of people trying to get on and nab a couple seats with a table in between them. Sure, we might have trampled an old woman along the way, but, damn it, we scored the table.
The train started up with a whirr of the electric whatever-it-is-that-runs-the-train and a jump, resulting, judging from the ruckus behind me, in someone nudging the old man’s crappy old red bike. “Fuck you, you little shit, get the fuck away from my bike!”
“What? I didn’t touch your bike.”
“I saw you touch the fucking bike, now fuck off before I hit you. I might be old, and you might be young, but I will break your nose just the same.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down, and don’t look at my fucking bike!”I grinned. Ah. England.