The train was the international TGV from Paris to Zürich. I was only going as far as Strasbourg today, but nonetheless the train felt quite exotic. And, as is often the case on these international trains, the clientèle was fairly exotic too. In the bar could be heard accents German, Swiss, French, American and English.
But the guy stood opposite me in the train bar was more exotic than that. He was some kind of Pacific Islander - by his looks, I'd guess Tahitian (of which there are more than you'd imagine in Paris). Anyway, he was beautiful...and he got me thinking about a mad few days I had years ago.
I was 22 and I'd been working in a fish factory in the Bay of Islands in the far north of the North Island of New Zealand for a couple of months. Fed up with the life in the small town where I was living, I'd headed, with a couple of friends, to Auckland for a weekend of partying.
We started drinking fairly early, and as the Friday night progressed, so did our excitement at being in the 'big' 'city'. We must have been misbehaving as, after we had downed more than a few drinks, the doorman came over to us and warned us to calm down or face being thrown out of the bar. Naturally, we didn't calm down. Naturally, we got thrown out.
However, as the doorman was ushering us out of the bar he told me of a different bar where we should go to next.
"I'll be there myself when I finish here", he said to me. "Will I see you there?"
"Erm, maybe," said I, wondering if there was a subtext or if I had imagined it. And off we traipsed into the antipodean evening.
As you can imagine, I managed to convince the rest of the group to follow his advice and go the bar he had suggested. When we got there, we were a little surprised. It was a small dive bar, in the basement of an old row of shops in the CBD. To say it was rough would be putting it lightly. To say it suited our mood would be absolutely spot on.
We stayed a while and drank. We danced along to James, to Dee-Lite and to the Waterboys, such was the music of the time. It was like being back in a Birmingham student bar and we loved it.
A couple of hours after arriving there, the doorman from the other bar turned up. He was with a friend and they were both well-built, handsome guys, both Pacific Islanders - Raratongans, it turned out.
By this point there were only a couple of our group left - me and a girlfriend - and we sat with the doorman and his friend and started to drink whisky from the bottle that he had brought over from the bar. The doorman's friend rolled a joint and so it got passed around. After a while, my friend and the other guy got up to dance.
The doorman, I think his name was Pete (it'll do, anyway) asked me if I'd ever smoked shotgun before. I hadn't, and I didn't really know what he meant.
It turns out that it's a technique for smoking a joint whereby one person smokes and inhales, then breathes the fumes into the other person's mouth - thus getting a two for one on every toke.
He took a lungful of the joint. He moved closer to me. He pulled my mouth towards his and he breathed the smoke out. I took in the smoke and felt giddy - mainly from the sexual tension that the situation created.
He repeated the exercise. Except this time, as he breathed the smoke into my lungs, he placed his lips on mine. That was it. The deal was sealed.
We kissed in the corner of that dirty downstairs bar for what seemed like an eternity. Each time, I came up for air unsure of whether it was the long-gone joint that was making me giddy, or if it was just Pete, the Raratongan doorman.
In the wee hours, we left the bar and headed to his place. We stayed there all weekend, enjoying the heady mix of marijuana, whisky and sex. When I think back to that weekend, I remember colours, smells and a few cloudy, cloudy memories of great sex.
When Monday morning came, I was nowhere to be seen at the fish factory. Tuesday likewise.
Wednesday morning found me once again stood at my counter, de-scaling fish. Four hours north and a million miles away from the last few days. My head was in the clouds, my heart was pounding with the madness of it all.
It would never be more than what it was - we both knew that - but what it was was beautiful.
I've had a thing for Pacific Islanders ever since.
If only the Tahitian on the train today had met my eye...