Eurostar International Arrivals
‘Could this be the most emotional place in London?’ I thought, as piano played while long lost couples embraced each other.
Someone had the bright idea of putting a piano at Eurostar International train arrivals in St Pancras Station.
Anyone can plonk themselves down and play. The quality is surprisingly good, and the best musicians rarely look anything like you’d imagine. Ordinary people with extraordinary talent or at the very least, passion and pure joy in music. And not a tails suit in sight.
I heard the piano was only supposed to be a temporary art experiment. I used to come here years ago when I lived in a tiny bedsit above a pub in nearby Camden Town and needed cheering up.
But years later, on this visit I’m glad to confirm the piano is still there. Chained down.
The arrivals board shows train arrivals from Paris and Brussels. As each train arrives, friends, family, and loved ones come flooding through the door and into the waiting arms of people who look very pleased to see them.
All the while serenaded by a randomer, on this day, in a baseball cap. It’s worthy of a Richard Curtis film.
(Though you don’t have to pay £13 for a cinema ticket and it’s in 3D actual reality.)
Which is a coincidence, because on the day I visited Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson stepped out the door wishing goodbye to some younger men who I guessed were his latest film crew. He’s probably just back from digging up an archaeological world war two battle field in Ypres, Belgium, or Germany.
And as I sat across the way, in french chain cafe Le Pain Quotidien, I was struck by how Eurostar and the channel tunnel are like an umbilical chord joining us to Europe.
At the time of writing, Britain is going through a difficult divorce with the European Union. Choosing to go it alone in austerity like a wind swept Outer Hebrides Island.
And sat here there is absolutely no sign of that. St Pancras International feels more connected to the world than ever.
A man joins his French speaking partner on the table next to me. They kiss like they haven’t seen each other in months. Which they probably haven’t.
She looks French with her short hair, glasses, and beret (ok I made up the beret.) He looks Asian, or British, or from somewhere in the world.
And while they sip hot chocolate from giant French mugs, a business man in a suit and a guy with builder’s cleavage eat pies and drink steins of beer together on a Monday.
Maybe they are German… or British. It’s hard to tell.
Everyone seems to be doing their thing and getting along nicely, be it chocolát or beer, same same, but different.
As I await a friend, visiting from Sheffield, I wonder whether Sheffield and the north of England are not more of a foreign world to me than Paris or Brussels.
Sheffield with its _____ (I don’t know, never been there) and full monty naked steelworker strippers.
Then I think of Paris, the Moulin Rouge, and it’s cancan dancers and I image Paris saying to Sheffield, maybe we’re not so different you and I, Mr Bond. (Paris in a chair stroking a white cat.)
Plus Britain isn’t an Island. Channel Tunnel / umbilical chord asides, people forget we have a land border and you can walk to Europe from Belfast.
Or, one time I took a Ryanair Flight from Stansted to Dublin for £12. Which is more than I’m going to spend on onion soup and apple juice in this cafe.
I changed flights and forfeited another £12 ticket, but it was worth it ‘cos my mate could give me a lift to the airport. He was going that way anyway ‘cos he was the pilot.
He pops over to Europe and back twice a day. As nonchalantly as if he’s driving the number P13 bus across London.
Actually scrap that. The No. P13 is a nightmare. Who’d drive that? An hour and a half of people and traffic, and narrow backstreets. Easier to pop across to Dublin Europe, and the flight takes about the same length of time.
Anyway, it’s handy that there are low cost flights to Europe because my exotic European girlfriend is from there.
Fuck knows how Brexit will affect us, but, as the couple in the cafe on the table beside me leave, and the piano strikes up again outside, I’m reminded of the people embracing outside; friends, relatives, and couples, and I’m reminded that love conquers everything.
Harry Potter’s Kings Cross Platform 9 and 3/4 is nearby, just across the road or through one of the tunnels.