It was Narbonne, just a stop north of Perpignan, when a couple lumbered into the seats opposite. A vast man, clearly in difficulty, slumped into his seat and hauled open his shirt as his wife pressed a moist paper towel to his forehead. A cleft was visible down his revealed torso as he struggled for breath.
It occurred to me that he was possibly going to peg out between then and Lille, where we departed the train, and it's not possible to know whether connecting Eurostar trains are held up in such circumstances. Eventually, his wife replaced the damp towel with a mask, strapping it securely to his head, before switching on a portable breathing device of some sort. At last, his patent discomfort subsided, only to return a couple of times during the journey. Rank smells drifted across the aisle, with noises like farts as he struggled to breathe.
Behind us, another man – this one kitted out in black cord and velvet – huffed and puffed and kept kicking or knocking the seat in front as he failed to be able to sit still. Later, a Spanish family boarded, apparently secure in the belief that it is perfectly reasonable to keep your children entertained by inflicting the soundtrack of some film or other, played on a portable DVD player, on the entire rest of the carriage.
And later still, leaving the Eurostar at St Pancras, it was to an accompaniment of braying Essex banter.
Yet only 24 hours earlier, we'd been sitting on the main promenade in Collioure, sipping a final, sweet Banyuls, and nearly lulled to peaceful sleep by the the lapping sea and droning cicadas.
Collioure, jewel of the Côte Vermeille, home of anchovies and art. Nestling at the bottom of the Albères – the foothills of the Pyrénées – as they slip gently into the Mediterranean, it's neither completely French nor Spanish, but defiantly Catalan; something different again. Kissed by the sunshine, added romance by a history that incorporates the Cathars and the Fauvists; a part of Roussillon, the southernmost region of France – beyond the Languedoc and beyond Provence, the point at which most Britons halt their journey. Bristling with life and adored by the thousands who visit – and the many who stay – yet still almost a secret.
Collioure; enchanting and enchanted, bewitching and divine.
Let's cast aside that journey back north and remember the south; let's remember Collioure.