As I step on to the platform under a damp grey sky, there’s a farewell party in full swing around the station.
After thirteen years, the last Eurostar will depart here in a few hours’ time. And in the morning, when the first train arrives at a gleaming new St Pancras across the Thames, Paris will be just two hours and fifteen rail minutes from London.
‘Fog in the Channel – Continent Isolated’. So read the famous newspaper headline of yore. Not any more. This rapprochement is almost complete.
But right to the end it seems we’re keeping up this rivalry, and our wry sense of humour to match.
The last slow train to Paris leaves from Waterloo, of course – the station named after Wellington’s victory over France. And the time of tonight’s last Eurostar ?
Tactfully set for 1812 – just a gentle reminder of Moscow, surely, and Napoleon’s frozen retreat.
I chuckle my way into the underpass and the warren of tunnels beyond. So much for the Entente Cordiale. Joined by the railway we may be, but gently wary of each other we’ll remain a little while longer.
There’s a murky daylight rushing clouds along the South Bank this afternoon. Another trip to Tate Modern, but it’s a different season now, and a different kind of day.
The puddles shimmer dimly underfoot. The turn of an incoming tide is corrugating the river at Blackfriars, whilst beside me the last leaves are clinging grimly against the breeze, holding off the winter for as long as theydare. Yellow fighting grey for a last corner of sky.
The cool of the great turbine hall seems strangely warmer today. Maybe there’s heat coming through this crack in the Earth ? For that’s the latest exhibit here – a long narrow chasm, commanding respect and attention as it rips across the entire museum floor.
Some visitors tripped over the brink when it first opened, and so there are fluorescent safety marshals stationed not far away now, wearing bright yellow jackets to keep us from harm.
I stop to watch the crowds of people, all wandering patiently along this simple fault line set into the concrete, following right to its conclusion.
They’re looking for where this gap closes, and when its madness can end.
And suddenly it strikes me that geology cuts in unlikely places. A crack in the concrete here, a narrow strip of sea cut into chalk there. A tunnel twohundred years in the planning. Two cities and two nations, spanning forty kilometres of unbridgeable water with five hundred of steel.
I head out into the November afternoon. It’s just another autumn day, with ruffled tide, rippling puddles and grey sky above the water. And I walk back along the river, tracking this great dream as it finally comes true.
142. South Bank spring – Tate Modern, London
167. Paris – Ville de lumière
36. The Embankment, inspiration and reality
56. Paris – a view from the Champs de Mars
85. A homage to London’s Gherkin
141. A winter sky and green and blue – Hyde Park, London