Unlike the French, who generally allow ‘les dix minutes de politesse‘ (arriving 10 minutes late) for dinner, here’s why arriving 10 minutes early meant that I didn’t miss ‘le repas de Noël’ (Christmas dinner) with my family!
‘On allait passer Noël chez mes parents’ (we were going to spend Christmas with my parents) in London. The train tickets were booked ‘bien en avance’ (well in advance). It was an expensive three train, one métro and one tube trip from our little village in the Alps to my ‘ville natale’ (home town) – but it would be worth it ‘de se retrouver’ (to be together again). It was a journey that I took ‘au moins une fois par mois’ (at least once a month).
Now, ‘je n’ai jamais raté’ (I have never missed) a train, plane or rendez-vous ‘de ma vie’ (in my life). I have taken ‘le mauvais train’ (the wrong train). I have also booked a ferry ticket from the wrong country (I absent-mindedly thought that Douvres was in France – sounds French doesn’t it?). But I am passionate about being ‘à l’heure’ (on time), or rather ‘en avance’ (early). ‘La question qui me fait le plus peur’ (my most feared question) is ‘à quelle heure est ton train?’ (what time is your train?) when ‘des amis bien intentionnés’ (well-intentioned friends) try to help me work out what time I need to leave their house. I either have to ‘mentir’ (lie) or admit that I will need to leave about 30 minutes before they think I need to leave. I’m sure that some of my friends think that ‘je ne les aime pas beaucoup’ (I don’t like them very much). ‘Sinon, pourquoi’ (otherwise why) leave so early? But it is ‘cette phobie’ (this phobia) of ‘le retard’ (tardiness) that saved Christmas.
The train was at 7:57. I wanted to leave at 7:20 to make sure that we got there about half an hour early. But my daughter ‘levait les yeux au ciel’ (rolled her eyes at me). So ‘on s’est mis d’accord’ (we settled) on 7:30, leaving a 15-minute margin. At 7:35 she finally ‘descendait l’escalier, traînant’ (came downstairs dragging) her impossibly large suitcase behind her. “Dépêche-toi! Nous sommes en retard!” (“hurry up, we’re late”) I shouted. “Détends-toi” (relax), she shouted back. After a rather tense drive, ‘on a laissé la voiture dans le parking’ (we left the car in the car-park) and started the 3-minute walk to the station. It was 7:45. As we set off we heard a train whistle. I started to walk more quickly. “Ralentis maman, on a tout notre temps – on est en avance de 10 minutes.” (Slow down Mum – we’ve got plenty of time, we’re 10 minutes early). But suddenly, ‘des profondeurs de mon subconscient’ (from the depths of my subconscious), I remembered that the timetable had changed recently and that the 7:57 train that I always took ‘avait été avancé de’ (had been moved forward by) 10 minutes! As I spoke we saw it ‘rentrer en gare’ (pull in to the station) – a good 2 minutes’ walk away. Instead of being 10 minutes early I was about to miss the train!
“Arretez le train’ (stop the train) I screamed as I ran, pulling an assortment of suitcases and bags behind me in a sprint ‘à la’ (in the spirit of) Usain Bolt. This was the last train to get us home in time for Christmas. We could not miss it. I reached the platform just as the doors closed, ‘le sifflet a retenti et le train s’est ébranlé’ (the whistle blew and the train started to move off). “Noooooon!” ‘J’ai crié‘ (I screamed). It seemed all was lost – until the station guard ‘s’est retourné’ (turned), surprised and whistled for the train to stop. He ran up the platform whistling and ‘par miracle‘ (miraculously) it stopped, he opened the doors and we were in.
It took me a full ten minutes to get my breath back and I am still haunted by the thought of extortionate last-minute tickets and the possibility that there may have been none left and we could have ‘carrément’ missed Christmas (all together). The next time I took the train, I was on the platform ‘avec une heure d’avance’ (an hour early).