A Danone rhubarb yoghurt – simply the perfect way to begin today, my last day on the Rhubarb Rhoute. A dull headache, courtesy of generous lashings of average Montepulciano the night before (I know, tracking down non-French wine in Paris, how is this possible?) did nothing to damper my spirits as I skipped to St Germain des Pres metro station, having hoisted my Karrimor pack on my back for one last time.
I smiled at the Chinese family who scuttled onto the train seconds before the rickety carriage doors of the metro slammed shut – an immense tribe of pushchairs, shopping bags and pudding bowl haircuts. I felt a pang of nostalgia for Beijing, my adopted home city I had left three months before, and shuffled over on the pull-down chairs to make room for one of the merry band of young boys.
His mother motioned for one of her number to sit beside me in the seat I had just vacated, prompting much hilarity and squirms of embarrassment from the gaggle of boys. “Don’t be afraid, xiao pengyou“, I said with an effected old man wisdom, my unruly beard clearly lending much authority, “have a seat here, next to me”. Wide-eyed in shock at the bearded Chinese-speaking man with a big dirty bag, he clambered up onto the seat and sat motionless, staring at the floor. I sure know how to charm ’em.
After the perfunctory exchange with the mother (Waaah! you speak Chinese!) we sat grinning at each other, counting down the stops to Gare du Nord. (Her son continued to stare at the floor, petrified). I imagined the welcome party that may or may not be waiting for me at St. Pancras – a seething mass of friends, well-wishers and radical rhubarb scholars, grasping banners, balloons and a selection of traditional British puddings ready to whisk me off to banquets and press conferences, eliciting soundbites about my journey and gauging my reaction on having returned to the leaden London skies.
Such daydreaming was abruptly halted as the young toddler in the pushchair in front of me unleashed three rounds of projectile vomit, covering herself, the carriage floor, my backpack and open flip-flops in half-digested xihongshi chaojidan (a rather tasty – and recognisable – egg and tomato dish).
Three months. Tens of thousands of kilometres. I had made it all the way from Beijing to somewhere beneath the boulevards of central Paris without major mishap, only to be bathed in girl-vomit minutes before my final journey.
“Pardon” the mother bleated, having switched to suspect French as if her linguistic dexterity might in some way make amends forher daughter’s bounced breakfast that I was attempting to mop up from between my toes.
Upon reaching the Eurostar I still exuded a headturningly-strong acidic stench – but I didn’t care. I had found this on sale in the departure lounge and was revelling in the profundity of the moment as I munched the succulent pieces of vegetable.
Two hours and plenty of open-mouthed, head-lolling snooze later, I had arrived.
And there we have it. After a mere ninety-three days, I flounced through arrivals, mullet flowing, to be greeted by the baying crowd, just as I had imagined, before we both retired to The Cittie of Yorke in Holborn for a pub lunch and celebratory pint of shandy.