I would rather be back in Brussels where the air smells of chocolate and vanilla and they haven’t even finished putting up the Christmas lights in the centre of town.
After a night on the sleeper from Euston to Edinburgh, home is not very welcoming. The taxi driver is surly (mind you, I am not a bundle of laughs myself at 7.30 am), my car insurance ran out just after midnight (we lent the car to Dougal so fingers crossed he had a long lie-in today), the central heating boiler has blown out, and to top it all there is a bloody Christmas card in the post.
Right now I would rather be back in Brussels where the air smells of chocolate and vanilla and they haven’t even finished putting up the Christmas lights in the centre of town. In the Grand Place we watched a man on a ladder doing a thorough job of thatching the stable. By the time we left it was topped with a green star showing wise men and shoppers the way to Christmas.
The odd thing is that the weather feels more like spring. There are rows and rows of hand made chocolate Saints Nicolas in beautifully dressed windows but I sit on a bench in the sun while Ray is at a conference and restaurants are still serving people on the streets, with just a little help from gas-guzzling patio heaters.
Climate change is a hot topic this week at Scotland Europa, the European arm of Scottish Enterprise – the reason for Ray’s trip to Brussels (with me along for the ride). And it is going to get hotter. Yesterday evening, I sat in for a little of Gavin McCrone’s lecture on climate change, oil supplies, renewable energy and what it all means for Scotland. He’s a professor, the General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and he’s on the same rigorous line of argument as Nicholas Stern and Al Gore: basically we have to start consuming less and producing more efficiently if we want to keep the lights on. It’s not going to be easy. Outside, right on cue, a police car sounds a siren, the lights of the European Commission blaze against the night sky, and back home rail companies have just announced British fares will rise far above inflation next year.
It promises to be a good thought-provoking lecture but unfortunately we have to sneak out in time to catch the Eurostar back to London. (Our offpeak tickets are £59 return, cheaper than flying!). The trip takes around two and a half hours to make the journey. In less than a year’s time, when the final section of the channel tunnel link goes straight to St Pancras it will take less than two hours to travel between London and Brussels and just over two hours to get to Paris. The total cost of this upgrading is £5.8 billion.
Investment in the East Coast main line could bring the journey time from Edinburgh to London down to considerably lower than four hours. With Eurostar type investment in track and rolling stock they could get it down to three hours, which would make flying redundant, speeding trade and business between Scotland and the rest of Europe and reducing our carbon footprint along the way.
As it is we settle down for a night in the sleeper (a double Scotch works wonders). Between starched white sheets, I dream about the little grey mouse I saw in the truly horrible smoke-filled bar at Euston. That’s one up for Scotland. Next year the atmosphere in English pubs will be as unpolluted as it is in Scotland. Pity we can’t be so bold with transport.