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A tweet cannot express the wonders of TGV

Posted on 12 May 2009 | 8:05am

I know that Twitter is meant to be the biggest
thing since the last biggest thing – but let’s be honest, there are limitations
as well as pleasures and challenges in communicating with 140 characters. A bit
like soundbites in politics. They can’t tell the whole story.

So last night I
was going for a run in Paris, and I was genuinely surprised by how many
McDonalds outlets there were. They seemed to be everywhere. So I sent a tweet
from my mobile. ‘In Paris. Just been for a run. Seems to have been explosion of
McDonalds under Sarko.’

Therein lies the possibility of entire PhD theses on
the Franco-American relationship, the attitudes of successive French Presidents
to their own culture, not to mention the attitude of the French people to their
food. Sorry, but you can’t cover that in 140 characters.

And anyway, it all
begs questions, and the questions started being asked even before I was
stripped off and in the shower. Mainly in the area of ‘what are you doing in
Paris?’ Again, 140 characters won’t tell the story. Well it can, but only part
of it.

I’m here to make a speech. That’s 26 characters. About trains. 38. On a
train. 49. Part of a day called ‘j’aime le train.’ 88. First time I’ve ever
made a speech on a train. 133. It doesn’t even leave room to say I’m on my way
to Brussels. Where does that leave anyone who might be vaguely interested in my
‘what are you doing?’ tweet?  Not much the bloody wiser, I would venture.
Confused even.

So thank heavens for the blog eh, so a bit of explanation can be
provided.  You have to hand it to the French. They love their fast trains.
Typical of them to have an annual ‘I love the train’ day. Today trains all over
France have events to celebrate this love affair. Philosophers, explorers,
politicians, artists, actors – and me – are all part of it.

I am on the early Paris-Brussels fast train telling
passengers how trains have a big role to play in both economic recovery and the
little matter of saving the planet. The train is so damned fast I only have
about twenty minutes to make my case, and talk about how jealous Brits are of
their trains,  before taking a few questions, then doing it all over again
with a different set of passengers on the way back.

Go to the public speaking
page on the website and you will know I do this kind of thing to help keep the
Campbell family in the manner to which they are accustomed. But it is so much
more enjoyable if it is the kind of thing I’ve never done before and I can
certainly say I have never made a speech on a train before. So merci to SNCF.

Thanks too to Andrew Adonis, transport minister, whose speeches on his devotion
to the cause of high speed rail gave me a lot of good material for mine. I had
forgotten that it was 120 years since the first Act of Parliament was passed allowing
the Channel Tunnel to be built, when an Army General’s impassioned warning of
invasion via the tunnel was enough to kill it off for a few generations.

did I know that the US, in the form of the electors of California, had just
voted for the country’s first high speed rail line, and that Barack Obama said
recently ‘the era of high speed rail is with us – just not here.’. Nor was I
aware of these rather shameful facts – there are 3600 miles of high speed rail
track in Europe, 2000 more being built, another 5300 planned. We have 68 miles.
Oh dear! So roll on the new North-South line.

And thank God for Eurostar which
will get me back in time to get to Reading to see Burnley take the next step to
the Premiership. All by train. But if we win tonight,
I’ll be flying. Carbon free.

  • Alan Quinn

    We had high speed tilting trains in the 70’s, because of a few technical difficulties the project was abandoned. The Italians picked up the technology and now we buy Pendolino trains from them.
    Thatcher’s assault on the railway industry killed off the workshops where we built our trains such as Horwich and Crewe, only Derby remains. The latest high speed train to be put in service came from Japan, built by Hitachi, Manchester’s Metrolink trams are Italian, the latest batch are being built in Germany.
    The future may be the train but we won’t be building many of them unless we try to start up a rolling stock industry, but actually employing people making things that matter seenms to be a bit old fashioned.

  • Glenn Le santo

    The age of the train.

    After a lifetime of driving, clocking up maybe two million miles on motorcycles, cars and vans, I am now only willing to travel by train.

    Willing, but not always able. I live in Lincoln, if I want to go anywhere apart from London then the car has to come out. Why? Because the all other destinations end up costing more and taking more time by train.

    Sadly, we seem to have little public or political appetite for train travel in the UK. We’re too insular, greedy and selfish to travel with others. We prefer the comfort zone of our little tin polluters.

    And am I the only person in Britain who thinks that the sight of a motorway full of lorries tailgating each other, and looking somewhat like a train with countless engines, is completely mad? Let alone ecologically criminal.

  • Dave McCabe

    If only there was the political will to spend and build a proper high speed rail network, and get rid of this shambles of a privatised system to boot!

  • delvestaxis

    but that is the fun of twitter,to be brief 33

  • Emma

    Brits should be jealous/envious of trains on the continent. Just had a look at J’aime le train webpages on SNCF website. I want to go next year. How are we encouraged to use trains in this country? Pay whacking premiums for weekday travel and suffer bus replacement services at the weekend. Where’s the incentive? Maybe we should aim to get our act together and have our own J’aime le train event? Why not do it in 2012?

  • Mark Martin

    John Cooper Clarke had similar thoughts to yours on Twitter regarding Japanese Haiku: “To convey one’s feelings in seventeen syllables is very diffic…”

    Or Al Murray’s Pub Landlord on the rail links on either side of the Channel:

  • Charles Litster

    Yes, 140 characters is a serious limit on Twitter. That is why everyone whom twitters should have a blog. You can then provide an outline (or headline) in Twitter and more detail on your blog. In the same way that you have just done. So well done!

    On the rail issue does the UK still have a rolling stock industry? It would be a great time to invest in high speed rail now – needs some thought and planning – but because of the economic climate costs should be less.

  • Ian Eastwood

    I bet your trip to Brussels was a dam site cheaper than trying to get from Crewe to Reading for tonights game. But come the final I will be on train. whather it,s the gravy train for Burnley remains to be seen. See you at Reading.

  • IanVisits

    If I recall correctly, France is McDonald’s most profitable market within Europe, even more than the UK.

  • gary Enefer

    Stephen Fry seems to do about 8 Twitters at a time.Twitter has helped me discover your site AC and make new and interesting friends via your blog.

    I am relieved it wasn’t a real explosion in Paris

    Good luck tonight otherwise i’ll be seeing you at QPR.

  • deb

    Alistair can you explain why myself as a self employed persom iM limited to what i am able to claim as expenses but the goverment can claim virtually whatever they want ..?

    Are these rules of what they are entited to claim be published ?

  • Brian Hughes

    Lucky you. I love trains, fast trains, slow trains, underground trains, electric, steam or diesel trains. I love them so much that, before the dawn of time (well before Thatch became PM), I worked eight years for the blessed British Railways. (I jumped into Big Oil shortly after she got the key to No 10)

    We ought to be more proud of our trains in the UK. They’re not the fastest on the planet but we do run more per mile of track than most other countries manage.

    What might look to some as a classic British fudge, viz. semi-nationalised infrastructure plus private (but often subsidized) operators, works really quite well. The cross country service for example is ten times better now than it was in BR’s era (and vastly better than its equivalent in France). It’s really a great British pragmatic third way. Hooray for Labour for rescuing us from Railtrack.

    PS The McDo phenomenon pre-dates Sarkozy, we did an exercise about it at my French evening classes over two years ago (just before one about Mme Sego Royal)…

  • Mil

    Look at it as an expansive and liberating 21st century form of haiku rather than a constricting kind of blog. Communication is as much what’s left out of the frame as what’s included. Giving the reader the opportunity to infer is as useful as – and possibly more globally productive than – writing reams which insist all. Blogging often degenerates into telling. Tweeting at its best is trust encapsulated; a trust which then demands dialogue, as progressive clarification – rather than degenerative obfuscation – becomes the name of the game.

    I wouldn’t compare good tweeting with effective soundbites, though. Soundbites aim to wrest the media’s attention from the political opposition so that the public then lap up an edited reality. Good tweets aim to encourage a multi-way communication of equal peers. A world of a generational, and intellectual, difference.

  • John Ashton

    Good luck Burnley! I like Burnley, living as I do near Keighley. I quite like Reading with their super sensible manager, the now-not-so-young Stevie Coppell. But not as much as Burnley, and certainly not as much as Bradford City.
    I quite like fast French trains as well.

  • AC

    Greetings from Eurostar. A brief update on the at times surreal ‘J’aime le trsin’ events I just did between Paris and Brussels. It was very French, and very enjoyable. A team of beautiful hostesses in red suits rustled up a bit of interest, a group of passengers gathered in the bar, I chatted away about the importance of high speed trains to our economic and environmental futures, how jealous we were of the TGV, how slow we were to build the tunnel,how shameful it was that of the thousands of miles of high speed track in Europe, only 68 were British, and how transport minister Andrew Adonis was determined to put that right. Then the European director of SNCF, Frank Bernard, and I took questions. They ranged from Obama to The Queen (the film) but in fact were mainly about trains. Bit of a tricky moment on the return leg from Brussels when a man with a leather jacket and a quizzical look asked me if TB and I were helping the Americans cover up information about UFOs in the UK. I assured him we weren’t, but he was unimpressed, later telling one of the red suits that I had to say that, but I knew the truth!! Interesting observation by Frank Bernard – he said whilst he was happy to accept the plaudits about the superiority of French trains, the Brits were way ahead of the French in terms of understanding how we had to change our lifestyles to meet environmental concerns. Nice guy, nice event, though I was shocked he had never heard of Burnley, let alone aware that such an important match was taking place tonight.

  • Em

    We just had National Train Day here. The subject of trains makes me sad as the last years have uncovered documentation which proved many environmentalists’ suspicions: the automobile industry bribed politicians across the country to stop the funding of the railways and kill the cripple the industry. There’s a glass roofed train that goes from coast to coast in Canada and many say it’s the best way to see the country.

    Love the TGV and Eurostar. Break a leg tonight.

  • gary Enefer

    I think the game’s highlights are on itv later.

    Break a leg as Em said


  • FF

    I put a message on yesterday on the subject of depression.
    How do I get back to that blog discussion, as I seem unable to from the new blog subject on Eurostar