Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Festina Lente (1)

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If you have to get from Oxford to Caen and then to Grenoble, there are several possibilities. You could fly, but the cheap flights are all on the wrong days, or leave from the wrong airports. You could Eurostar and TGV it. Now, it’s a commonly believed falsehood, probably fostered by the SNCF, that you cannot get anywhere in France without travelling (a) by TGV (b) via Paris. I plan to prove them wrong by doing this whole trip without doing either.


Oxford to Caen is a journey I have done several times. A 10 am departure from Oxford will just get the 1315 Eurostar, and then it’s a matter of schlepping across Paris in the rush hour to St Lazare in time for the 1810 Intercites, arriving in Caen at 20h00. Total cost, if you care, about 250 euro. OR, you could start at the same time and take a slightly slower but more direct route. A Virgin train from Manchester links Oxford to Southampton, which connects with another to Portsmouth, and then due south again by ferry to Oustrehan, which Brittany Ferries persist in pretending is actually Caen’s harbour. If everything connects, you leave Oxford at 1015 and arrive at Caen at 2100.

This being Bank Holiday Tuesday and a school holiday I was anticipating trains crowded with families on their way to Bournemouth, but the current British climate (both spiritual and meteorological) seems to have dampened popular enthusiasm for such a projects. I set off in a determined drizzle and spent most of the journey revising a paper for the Document Engineering conference. It was still raining every time I looked out of the window. And still when I changed trains at Southmapton Central. And still when my train finally pulled in to Portsmouth and Southsea station, which seemed the best bet for a taxi to the ferry port. Like the airports favoured by budget airlines, ferry ports are never where you might expect them to be. Brittany Ferries do not operate their services from Portsmouth harbour, oh no. They have their own purpose built ferryport which is 5 quids worth of taxi away. I arrive much too early, as usual, and spurn the offer of wifi for 5 quid an hour.


It’s a BOAT. It’s HUGE. Me and a dozen or so other intrepid pedestrians climb aboard, where we are affably greeted by REAL FRENCH SAILORS. I’d forgotten how much fun this is, provided the sea isn’t misbehaving (it wasn’t) and there are not too many other people having it (there weren’t). I had a slap up late lunch of roast lamb and proper french fries, with drinkable wine, and proper cheese, before retiring to my cabin for a couple of hours snooze. Wifi only works on the upper decks,which is slightly annoying, since that is also where someone is also trying hard to entertain us with a general knowledge quiz, followed by larks for the kids, but what the hay. It’s a relaxing experience, and I disembark in such a relaxed state at Oustrehan I am happy to wait 15 mins for a taxi to come and take me to my appointed hotel in downtown Caen (40 euro, gulp) far too late for any dinner,

The next three days are spent in a meeting of the Conseil Scientifique de la MRSH, and involved no rail travel, nor indeed much travel except for one surprise outing. Since last year, this committee has lost a couple of members, and gained a couple more, but otherwise it was much as last year (see revious report), except of course that both we and the MSH itself now have last year’s experience under our metaphorical belts and know what to expect from the meeting.


Written by Lou

June 1, 2013 at 21:01

Posted in Biographical

Tagged with ,

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