Sophie Heawood: 'Allo, 'allo, je suis dans le train et dans le tunnel...

Sophie Heawood
Sunday 04 March 2012 01:00

So they're going to make mobile phones work in the Channel Tunnel, which is amusing, seeing as they barely work in Kent, or at least the bit of it you pass through on the Eurostar. In fact, mobile phone coverage is so notoriously patchy on most British train journeys that it will be quite spectacular if the only time it now works perfectly is under the sea in a massively reinforced tube.

From July, when this service becomes available, 250ft beneath the sea bed, travellers to France will be able to say to their loved ones, "I'm on the train and we're just going through a tunnel, darling, so please tell me any long involved and traumatic tales you need to get off your chest, starting now."

It's a French technology group who have found a way to maintain the signal through the Chunnel, but it's not yet clear whether your talking, texting and tweeting from the tunnel will be billed as overseas – or, to be precise, underseas – usage. Perhaps they'll set up a special tariff which will plot the cost of your calls against a chart showing how close you are to David Walliams swimming.

Naturally, some people are going to complain that they quite liked the tunnel providing a respite from telecoms, and what is wrong with people today, why can't we just put our phones down for half-a-bleeding hour and enjoy the view and the buffet trolley, like we used to do. Well, there isn't a view or a buffet trolley down there. We've forgotten how to read books. Kindles are no good in the gloom. We may as well fiddle with our phones.

On Valentine's Day morning, at strangers-talk o'clock, all I could hear on a work trip was tender wet British lips striking up mergers with other tender wet British lips. (I prayed that if God could not strike me deaf, he might at least miracle me an iPod and some headphones, but ours is a cruel god, for my prayers went unanswered.) Given the choice, I would have preferred the sound of 20 gloaters phoning their friends to use phrases including, but not limited to, "romantic getaway", "whisked away" and "OMG massive total literal surprise minibreak".

It is said that the French have a more respectful attitude towards phone usage on trains than we do, tending to hide away to make calls rather than chat in the faces of their fellow passengers. So all the people making calls will turn out to be British anyway. This in turn will ruin my favourite game – "anglais ou français?" – a fun pursuit in which you spend the entire journey trying to ascertain if the person across the way from you is leaving their native country or heading home to France. (Obviously there are certain giveaways, such as, if they're sipping mysteriously at a thin and philosophical cup of coffee, with an air of resigned and yet somehow sexual understanding of what part humanity plays in its own eventual and somehow inevitable downfall, then they're French. If they're female and they're eating crisps, they're one of us.)

I once played this game on the train to Paris, dreaming away about the arty-looking bloke opposite me, enjoying une petite reverie about the nudes he painted in his Parisian atelier. Only to find out, when he actually did manage to get reception somewhere near Ashford, that he was a graphic designer from Hoxton. Called Dan. Going to France to meet up with this really fit bird he met when he was snowboarding cos they've been having some mad chats on Facebook. It ruined everything.

Maybe we'd be better off with silence, after all.

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