I’m on a TGV on my way to a very special holiday – a residential writing course in the Loire Valley. It’s been a few months since the shift in perspective that I managed to think my way into, when I realised that when it comes to the question, ‘If you could do anything you wanted in life, what would it be?’ I am in the incredible position of being able to act on the answer. It’s been a few weeks since my husband came up with the idea of finding this amazing opportunity for me to kickstart a new phase in my life (and booked the time off work to let me do it), giving me space away from toddlers, shipment packing, visa applications, school applications, laundry, groceries… giving me some headspace. I can’t wait to get there and get started.
Yet, here I am, writing already. Just the idea of going away to have my creativity sparked has got me taking notes and going down rabbit holes full of ideas. It’s not just that the time has been carved out, but the act of physically moving away from daily demands has allowed me to empty them from my mind. And then there’s the train…
The romance of a train journey: it’s a well-worn idea. To be propelled through a country, sitting by wide picture windows, seeing the views that can only be seen from these tracks, the navigation all done for you, being free to move around easily, to visit the buffet car, to think of arriving right in the middle of a city, often into a space which evokes the grand aspirational architecture of the nineteenth century and the industrial revolution…all bring the sense of (literally) being transported to another place.
And the French do this so well. Although my first train à grande vitesse today was delayed by just enough to make me miss my connection, I’m as at ease as I hoped I would be. Once I was on the first leg of the journey, my first class ticket (because here it’s not that much extra) got me a seat in what was almost a compartment on its own, with glass dividers behind and beside the seats. Not quite the Orient Express, but I enjoyed the seclusion I shared with my neighbours. The conductor on that train passed through to find out which passengers had connections to make, and a few minutes later announced the details of alternative trains. At my connecting station, a very long queue of travellers needing to change their tickets was dealt with swiftly: new tickets had been prepared, and I was given a food and drink voucher for a stay in the station of around an hour and a half. And now I’m sitting on a large train whisking travellers from west to east of the country – from Bordeaux to Strasbourg; my stop is coming up soon but I’m half-tempted to stay on board, in my spacious reclining seat, on the top deck of a chic sleek carriage (a double-decker train! That still gives me a buzz. Wait till I tell my boys!), where the conductor passed through at the beginning just to say ‘bonjour’ to everyone – and everyone said ‘bonjour’ back – and only now in the last half-hour of my journey have I had my ticket inspected. Where the little table-lamp beside me – utilitarian approximation of art deco though it may be – is the unexpected touch which underlines the sense of luxury and personal space.
And where, with the views, the space, the comfort, the romance and the overwhelming sense of being conveyed to a place of possibility, I’m already finding my way to that ‘room of my own’. I’m half thinking my husband could have just bought me a 5-day train ticket round France.
But I’m about to disembark, and there’s so much more to come.