John Lichfield: Transport bosses handbag history

Paris Notebook
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The Independent Online

Fact one: Parisian women are more magnetic than Parisian men. Fact two: the Paris Metro has clung heroically for more than a century to the traditional size of railway ticket, roughly 2in long and 1in wide.

This size and shape of the ticket first appeared on the Manchester and Leeds Railway in the 1840s and spread, as the railways spread, to the furthest reaches of the globe.

The small tickets disappeared from Britain's railways in the 1970s and have vanished from almost every rail system in the world – except the Paris Metro.

Fact three. Terrible news. The Metro is planning to get rid of its ticket-sized tickets.

Why? It is the fault of the magnetic Parisiennes, or partly their fault.

The RATP, the body which runs transport within Paris, is planning to go over to a form of computer-chip "smart" card for all Metro and bus journeys, rather like the Oyster cards in London.

One of the reasons for the sudden surge of modernity is that the old-fashioned Metro tickets have come into conflict with the contemporary world. They have a magnetic strip on the back which tells the automatic ticket barriers whether or not they have been used. Over the last couple of years, the magnetic strips have become demagnetised in huge numbers.

A survey by the RATP found that valid tickets were three times more likely to fail after they had been sold to women. Was this because women kept their mobile telephones in their handbags, next to their tickets? A lengthy investigation by the RATP has declared the mobile phone to be innocent. The main problem, it seems, is that contemporary handbags have magnetic clasps which demagnetise the tickets.

The correct solution is attractively obvious: ban magnetic handbags. Instead the RATP has decided to abandon more than 100 years of history and ban tickets.

Who wrote the book of love?

The man who introduced Nicolas to Carla, below, is making waves – in Britain, not France – with a new book which gives a word-by-word account of their first date. How, one might ask, could Jacques Séguéla have remembered the exact wording of a Mills-and-Boon-style conversation which occurred nearly 15 months ago? He says that he wrote down the breathless prose at the time.

Certainly his memory appears to need help from the written word. Other parts of his book – Autobiographie Non Autorisée – have been copied verbatim from his last autobiography, published 30 years ago. We should remember that Mr Seguela, 75 this month, is a professional publicist – and self-publicist.