Twas the summer of ’92 and a near perfect pitch in coastal Normandy. The September rain had all but subsided and it was time to get on bikes. When it wasn’t, it was time to brave the shower block and the laundry, leaving the shivery confines of the tent. It was a bright breezy kind of sunshiny day when I met our Claudette. She possessed legs that travelled, but then I guess I could move some if I had eight. I could certainly improve upon my 100 metres Personal Best. The Seventeen-legged race would prove most interesting. No doubt, it would end up in a crumpled heap somewhere short of the finishing tapes.
Claudette was no Supermodel, despite her long slender limbs. She was, however, a snappy dresser, donning a purple beret to beat off the purple rain. She was also embraced in garlic to keep away aracnophobic teen spirits one might suspect. The obligatory two-wheeler was, however, conspicuous by its absence, as were the pearly fumes from those foul cigarettes that only the French and Spanish know how to manufacture. Like me, she abhorred French tobacco.
Her chilling presence was nevertheless threatening and besides, I wanted the sink she was defiantly basking in. At this point, every sinew of muscle in my body froze compliantly, as did every hair on my body, which was by now, keenly standing to attention. From this uneasy disposition, I pondered the best form of attack. Predictably, I chose the tried and failed approach of conquering phobias. Namely, the sledge hammer to a nut technique. In the absence of a double-barrelled shotgun, there was, as luck would have it, a rather large potted plant located conveniently in close proximity.
I grabbed it hastily and raise it about three feet above the hapless Claudette, who was by this time, failing to charm me with her Gallic sex appeal. Did she flinch or wince? No. Not an inch. The stubborn French arachnid held its ground with typical Norman arrogance. It reminded me of those fearless ravens who for some inexplicable reason hug the nearside of motorways just for the sheer hell of it. I am always intrigued by such behavioural patterns in the bird kingdom. As I pondered this phenomenon, I released the giant potted plant. There followed one of the longest pauses in memory. I stood anxiously, half expecting the cursed creature to limp out on all eights. In my reluctance to play the waiting game, I sheepishly removed the plant pot. To my horreur, the infernal insect sluggishly made haste in an inordinate sideways direction. She appeared to sound out a few French expletives and retorted with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. Still suffering from a mild state of shock, I made for the exit, deciding to postpone the laundry for another day.
Shocks were definitely the order of that particular day. On my return to the tent, I caught sight of three scrawny wild cats making off with my ham. That’s jambon in French but merely FOOD to Les Trois Chats! Too this day, these cats remain unnamed and I shall not what I called them as they scrammed from my pitch. Suffice to say, it wasn’t French, and it wasn’t polite. Vive La France!
Written May, 1996.