Rendez-vous in Paris

The first place I ever tasted freedom was Paris. I remember the day it happened.

Nothing dramatic, exactly. But one spring morning 20 years ago I stepped out of the Gare du Nord, an 18-year-old school-leaver from London, and by midnight I was an adult.

Like all the special days when you’re young, the sun shone. It sparkled on the cream stone of classical mansions and the green shutters of peeling tenements. It slid down the bronze arches of metro stations and bounced off the chrome tables of pavement cafes. It gilded the trees along the riverside quais and lit the faces of fur-clad women in the boulevards. It fired my pulse and told me that this city – and this life – were mine for the taking.

There should have been a girl, of course. In the French art movies that I worshipped then, there was always a girl: something wayward in black, with a fearful temper and deep green eyes. We would have met in a cafe and kissed by the Seine. But I had a schoolgirl sweetheart back home, and she’d hidden pear-drops in my rucksack, and that was romance enough for me.