Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess
Thursday 22 November 2007
Last week, the much-heralded high-speed Eurostar departed from its new home at St Pancras. I went along for the ride, together with this paper's esteemed environment editor, Mike McCarthy, and many other keen greens from up and down the country, including a lively gang of green campaigners from the Women's Institute, who spent most of the journey congaing through the train proffering champagne to the thirsty.
It was quite a send-off. Jeremy Vine was striding about the concourse with his mic, TV crews and green notables dashed excitedly about the sustainable-timbered floor, and Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth and the Eurostar boss Richard Brown gave a lively press conference (Friends of the Earth is keen on Eurostar: travelling to Paris on the train uses 90 per cent less CO2 than flying there).
During the press conference, Tony was asked if he'd prefer people to stop travelling completely. "No!" he replied. "We have the technology to live and travel more sustainably, we just have to use it." He added that being green isn't about living in the dark and wearing a hair shirt. Quite right!
The journey went by in a flash and we were soon deposited in an anarchic, strike-ridden Paris. As this was the maiden voyage of the new, speedier Eurostar, I had been anticipating a great welcome at the Gare du Nord, possibly even being greeted by the world's most attractive leader, Nicolas Sarkozy, but there was barely a flicker of interest.
But of course, why should the French be at all excited at the gloomy prospect of les rosbifs flooding into the country even more quickly (and they have, after all, had the high-speed facility in France since Eurostar's inception).
As the Métro wasn't running, a special bus had been organised to shift all the hungry hacks to a nearby restaurant for a ritzy reception. I have to say, my heart always sinks when I hear the word "special bus". In the UK, we all know that there is nothing special about a special bus at all, but under the circumstances, we were very grateful.
However, confusion followed. The glam green writer Joanna Yarrow and I had been so busy chatting that we had got on the wrong special bus – this one, we discovered, was taking another bunch of greens to a sumptuous river cruise to which we weren't invited. Quickly thrown off, we tottered through the empty streets before miraculously finding our destination, a wonderful brasserie that served up a delicious vegetarian set menu. I didn't think the French "did" vegetarian, but they are obviously entering a new dining era.
Eurostar and the revitalised St Pancras have made travel exciting again. It's the first time in living memory that I can remember anyone getting excited about a train. Credit must be given to Richard Brown and his enthusiastic young team, who are providing a great rail service in the greenest way possible. Let's hope that their success inspires other companies to follow their lead.
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