Three of us on a cold metal bench waiting for the bus. It’s almost dark. Winter arrived yesterday and we are frozen. Next to me sits a small, moon-faced woman wearing a brown beret. Her spectacles are missing an arm. She is wearing unlaced plimsolls with no socks, a thin black skirt and an anorak with no padding. Her shopping bag appears to contain rubbish. She has been waiting since ten o’clock this morning. Next to her is an old man wearing pathetically flimsy, broken-down trainers. His bony knees are outlined by the worn-out cotton of his trousers. His face is ashen with cold. He’s been waiting since noon. I’ve been waiting two hours. We are waiting for the coach to Nice. I’m hoping to get to Nice airport to catch a flight to Bristol.
Of the possible causes of the absence of coaches to Nice, the ineluctable one is a nationwide protest by yellow-jacketed anti-Macron protesters. Everyone assumed that their impromptu roadblocks would be a one-day affair. But this is the fourth day and the slip road from the motorway to the town is again barricaded. Maybe the protestors will make their point, then go home and a nice warm coach will come through and take us to Nice. That is what we are hoping.
Staring straight ahead, we make desultory comments about how cold we are. Or we speculate, sometimes hopefully, sometimes not. Once, however, the old man speaks confidentially and at great length into the woman’s ear. I can’t hear what he is saying. The moon-faced woman keeps her face averted from him. Perhaps he is proposing congress. Perhaps he is reciting an epic poem. I don’t know.
Normally three coaches a day go to Nice, 100 miles away. If none comes I’ll miss the plane. However, I can always hitchhike the ten miles back to home and hearth. But my companions live in Nice. They appear to have no money, no phone and to have no option but to sit there. I excuse myself and walk my wheelie bag around the square a few times to warm up.
On completion of the second circuit, I hear a confident American voice asking in unashamedly bad French if any buses to the airport are expected today. The voice belongs to an idealistic-looking chap with a beard. He is wearing an expensive down-filled hiking jacket. ‘Well, I’ve been here since two o’clock and that woman over there has been waiting since ten,’ I tell him. He says: ‘Are you trying to get to the airport?’ ‘I am.’ ‘What time is your flight?’ ‘Eight something.’ ‘Mine too. Look, I can get my friend Andy to drive us there.’ He points to his friend, who is standing ten yards off with a furrowed brow interrogating his smartphone.
I indicate the two poor souls on the bench. ‘They need a lift to Nice too,’ I say. He walks over to a point about ten yards from them and meditates on them. Then he comes back and says: ‘Let’s go.’ So I follow him and Andy to Andy’s car, which is parked a little way off in a car park. I’m put in the back, he gets in front with Andy, who is German, committed to driving, and doesn’t say much. ‘My name’s Alan, by the way,’ he says.
Alan is an intellectual and he gets on to the subject of Donald Trump before we’ve even left the car park. Worse still, he assumes that I am one too and must therefore despise Donald Trump as much as he does. He is one of those people who cannot even imagine anyone not hating Donald Trump. I don’t want to confess straightaway that I love the man because it might cause an accident. Nor do I duly laugh along with him at how comical it is having a gross vulgarian as your president if you can forget for a moment what a tragedy it is.
By the time we turn on to the motorway, it is fully dark and the protesters on the slip road have gone home. At a motorway toll we pass a group of about 100 of them waving tricolours. The journey to Nice takes about an hour and a half. Alan’s passionate denunciation of Trump and Republicans lasts 45 minutes, then he moves on to Brexit. What had I voted? ‘Leave,’ I say. Alan finds this information difficult to absorb. He knows ‘lots’ of Brits, he says, and I am the first Leaver he’s ever met. ‘You are joking, right?’ he says.
At this point, I look out of the window and notice signs for Marseille. I’m flying from Nice. I’ve accepted a ride to the wrong airport. When I tell Alan about my mistake there is relief in his laughter. Only a Leaver could be stupid enough to go to the wrong airport. His world is comprehensible again.