Happiness plus, I had thought that the likes of Tech'Otel were left behind us at Chambéry and that to satisfy my grosser needs I would have to go through to Perpignan or even Montpellier: imagine my pleasure on discovering that at Lézignan there is what looks like a hole in the wall with a few dusty pots and pans and a couple of dispirited bluebottles in the window but which, if you push tentatively at the door (for the place looks as though it's permanently closed), turns out to be a true Ali Baba's cave.
Then once we'd arrived at Narbonne the centre seemed gripped by gridlock for some reason so it took another ten minutes to get to the gare: even if we had left a good hour before need be (for I like to be ahead of time) I was starting to sweat. But I made it on board, rather by the skin of my teeth but what the hell.
Sadly there is no direct line from Gare de Lyon to Vitry sur Seine, so you find your way from the maze out to Quai de Bercy, trot across the Seine and head off to Gare d'Austerlitz, which just happens to be undergoing renovations at the moment so you can't actually get into the place in the usual manner but have to do an extra 500m north and then double back ...
Until I got to Vitry and walked over to the Hotel de la Gare, looking forward to a reasonable meal and a shower, to discover that the guy who'd taken my reservation over the phone had forgotten to note it down anywhere and that the place was full. The chap at the counter was very apologetic and offered to pay me a drink on the house to make up for the disappointment he somehow scented I was feeling, but I rather churlishly declined and set out on the mean streets of Vitry in search of another hotel.
For that amount I wasn't expecting a great deal but I paid up-front and he dug a key out of somewhere about his person and led me out the front door, round the corner, through a bit of plywood on hinges and up three vertiginous flights of stairs smelling of disinfectant, which I guess was probably better than cat piss. Then he opened one of the four bright pink doors in the hall and showed me into the room.
The choice, in Vitry, at 22:30 is rather limited: takeaway Chinese or a kebab so as I had no particular wish to spend more time than necessary in that rather sinister room, and in any case the takeaway joint was closing up, I sat down to a kebab with chips and salad. And a beer. And I admired the décor, which seemed to consist of pictures of oil paintings on velvet with cutesy woodland animals photoshopped in, can't see the point myself but someone certainly seemed to have gone in for it.
I've been in worse places - in darkest Africa. I could not find a shower for the simple and sufficient reason that there wasn't one anywhere, and as for the toilet ... what I'd taken to be a cupboard halfway up the third flight of stairs had, on careful inspection, a faded sign on the door proclaiming it to be a "Patented Water Closet". Inside, a squat loo - that's not referring to its shape, but to how you're supposed to use it. A plastic bucket hanging from a tap by the door was a useful hint: the cistern probably hadn't worked for the past 50 years so flushing was a manual operation (and no doubt optional as well). So it was a good thing, I guess, that I hadn't wolfed down that enormous meal.
For some reason the prospect of boring myself to sleep by reading 137 paragraphs from the encyclopaedia, starting at Aut (for most of the preceding pages were missing), didn't really appeal so I stood at the window smoking a cigar and waited for a bit of street theatre or some other form of entertainment to occur. Didn't have long to wait as a couple of mismatched guys hove into view, leaning heavily on a pushbike which seemed to be propping both of them up somehow, and apparently trying to keep a car battery balanced on the rear mud-guard.
They stopped just below me, both seemingly stricken by a dire and pressing need to pee so they took turns, one holding the battery and trying to stop the bike getting away whilst the other washed down the outside of a rubbish bin: then when they'd both finished the short squat one heaved himself approximately onto the saddle, weaved a couple of metres into the side of a parked car, bounced off and then sailed unsteadily off into the night, clutching that battery in one hand. As the tall skinny one ran after him, yelling out bonsoir! at the top of his voice.
Whatever, we are thoughtful people here at The Shamblings, and I would like to leave you with another bit of friendly advice from our occasional series of Health & Safety hints: should you, through no fault of your own, find yourself with an inquisitive bee on your scrotum, do NOT ask a friend to remove it. Under the circumstances, the uncharitable and the small-minded might well choose to put an unfavourable interpretation on the ensuing antics.