Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Fun with Bev and Carol - excerpt from One Summer in France

Want some light relief?
Enjoy a Bev and Carol adventure on me.
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Here's a taster for you:

We had been in the South of France for more than a month and were tanned, healthy and very well read.  I had consumed Madame Bovary, salivated over Les Fleurs du Mal, delighted in Le Chateau de ma Mère, and done my best with a bit of Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Carol had listened to my observations and generally provided a slant to French literature that I found both original and highly disrespectful, which was one of the many reasons I loved her so much.  She eventually agreed to read a ‘proper’ book, if we could find one, and so we set out for Perpignan in search of something she could get her teeth into.
Perpignan was a short bus ride away.  We had been there with Luc, but now we were independent and full of a new excitement.  We decided to make a day of it and got up well before eleven.  The next decision was more difficult: whether to put on some clothes or not. 
‘Do you think they’ll let us on the bus in our bikinis?’ I asked Carol.
‘Could be a byelaw against bums on seats, I suppose.’ Her tone was distinctly dubious.  After all, this was France, not Switzerland.
‘It’s not going to rain,’ I added.
We looked up at the cloudless sky and decided that we would take a sundress with us, just in case.
It turned out that the bus driver was a woman and that the dresses were obligatory.  Even then, she wasn’t keen on letting us on her bus.  As usual, it was Carol who charmed her, telling her that her auntie drove a bus in London and was, like her, a woman who flouted social conventions and excelled in a male dominated profession. In summary, and as her French was almost non-existent, this is how it went: 

‘Auntie Flo says women are better drivers than men,’ announced Carol, waiting on the first step, newly adorned with her dress on back to front.
‘Too much macho!’ replied the now slightly more jovial driver.
‘La soeur de mon auntie.  She drive like you!  Strong woman!’ 
‘Oui, oui.  Yes, I like!  Enter, enter, English woman.  Yes!’
Throughout the journey the driver winked and gesticulated in the mirror in our general direction.
‘Does your auntie really drive a bus?’
‘No.  She works in a sweet shop,’ said Carol.
‘I didn’t know that!’
‘That’s because I haven’t got an auntie, you lovely dope!’
‘You have your dress on the wrong way round,’ I told her, gently savouring my revenge.
‘I know,’ said Carol, giving me one of her superior smiles.

She took it off as soon as she stepped off the bus, and our new best friend hooted and waved as she pulled away, leaving us standing in the middle of a busy shopping street, in the shade of an enormous building that looked like a palace.

We went inside the palace, which was in fact a cathedral, and were glad once more of our emergency clothing.  We sauntered along the river with its laurel trees and quiet walkways that made me think of Wordsworth and Keats and made Carol’s sandals rub.  We bought a jambon buerre baguette and devoured it as we wandered around the harbour looking for millionaires. Carol read from a booklet we had picked up in the Tourist Information Office, telling me about the medieval buildings we were looking at, the Spanish influences of the town and the impressive history of the Hotel de Ville. 
Eventually, when we had stopped looking for one, we found a bookstall in the market, run by a French woman with a penchant for English literature.  Her collection was eclectic, to say the least, but her prices were reasonable and her sales skills second to none, so we came away with The adventures of Benjamin RabbitThe Railway Children and White Fang
‘Did you know it was a bookstall for children?’  asked Carol, when we had got far enough away.
‘Not quite,’ I admitted.
‘What are we going to do with these, then?  Lug them around or dump them?’
It was enough to make me stop in my tracks.  I could tolerate most of Carol’s indiscretions, but the throwing away of books, especially such classical treasures, was sacrilegious.
‘Well?’ said Carol, dangling the bag over a large litter bin.
‘I’ll carry them,’ I said, grabbing it, before she could drop it amongst the empty drinks cans and cigarette packets.
‘I wasn’t going to, anyway,’ she confided, moments later.
That was Carol.  You thought you knew her, and yet…

It was getting towards six o’clock and we were pretty sure the last bus left at around six-thirty, so we made our way to the bus stop, casually.  As it came into sight, so did a bus that was just leaving.  The last bus had gone and we were stranded. 
‘We could walk,’ I suggested, contemplating Carol’s sandals and wondering how far we would get.
‘How far is it?’ said Carol, looking at her watch as though it might suddenly be able to tell her.
‘About ten miles, I think.’  I knew for a fact that it was more like fifteen, but ten seemed like a much more reasonable number.
It turned out that we were running out of steam before we’d even left the outskirts of the town and so, not for the first time in our short lives, we stuck out our thumbs and hitched a ride back to the campsite, praying that the advice our parents had lavished on us, with tales of unspeakable dangers and unimaginable perverts, would not come true on that particular day; that we would be transported, without interference, to our longed-for tented oasis of comfort and joy, where we could laugh about our trivial ineptitudes and live, unmolested, to fight another day.
We decided that we would only take a lift with a woman, with or without children and then took the first offer we got, with a man wearing a beret and a scowl.  He didn’t speak much, but dropped us off outside La Belle Sirène and wished us a good evening. 
‘Funny man,’ I said. ‘ Didn’t even look at my legs once!’
‘Perhaps he doesn’t like mottled,’ chirped my cruel friend, skipping off towards the shop and Anna’s meat counter.
‘Better than flabby,’ I called out after her.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,Bev
    I think I my emails are going astray. I sent two on Sept 1st. Then, when I received no reply, I was about to email again but got your email about not hearing from ME. I answered. And re-sent the two original emails. No answer today. I have your yahoo email. I assume it's the one I've been using since forever. Am I going into your SPAM folder? Very odd. I sure hope you get this. Otherwise I will have to resort to writing an actual letter! Hugs, Carrie