Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Distressed Salesman in Paris


We all know what it is like. That dreadful feeling when you just know you have to go. You feel strange movements and aches in your gut and you try to position yourself in the car seat in a way that you can best cope. Cold sweat starts to form on your brow as you realise that your race against time is nearly lost and there is no salvation is in sight. The mind wonders what you are going to do when it literally’ happens’.

It all seemed so harmless the previous night. A few Kronenbourgs, a celebratory glass of champagne, some suspect cork flavoured wine and oysters for the first time in that quaint riverside Parisian bistro. What the hell are you supposed to do with oysters I thought, my mind wandering back to various novels I had read. I tried swallowing, and chewing, a bit of Tabasco, au naturelle but frankly it tasted like raw sea slug whichever way it went down. My table host was ‘eating’ moules marinier at the same time so I borrowed a few to see if the combined taste improved matters. It definitely did not. Back to the hotel afterwards and after a couple of Armagnac and a jar of assorted peanuts from the mini bar I fell into an uneasy sleep.

Out of bed early in the morning, shovelling down a breakfast ‘Anglais’ with a swill of tart orange juice and black coffee and off in my hire car, a replete road warrior The kilometres ran past and my stomach tightened until I found myself in contortions, talking to myself, and sweat poring down my face. The sheer horror of being in a foreign land on a busy perimeter road and not the first idea how to explain my predicament to a local began to play on my tortured senses.

Just as my stomach was seriously contemplating giving way to gravity I saw it. There it was, a roadside toilet. The relief was palpable. Providence was on my side and there was a large parking space, right in front of it! Oh what joy I felt as I crabbed across the pavement in a Quasimodo like gait. Relief was imminently at hand, I thought.

The anticipation was as good as it gets, until I got inside. My eyes focussed simultaniously on two unwelcome sights. First was an enormous old lady sitting behind a plain wooden table by the urinal and the second a sign next to the only cubicle saying ‘ferme (closed). Any blood remaining in my face drained at these two terrible visions.

The woman was obviously both, cleaner and custodian and her eyes transfixed me with a baleful stare as I stood there hunched over with my knees clamped together. I made my move first, lurching towards the cubicle door, hands like claws reaching for the handle. She moved fast considering her bulk and age but I got there seconds before her and slammed the door in her face. Eureka I thought as I settled on the grubby seat. It was then I realised that the reason the cubicle was ‘ferme’ was because the lock on the door was broken and hanging off its screws. By this time nothing was going to stop me so I stretched one leg as far as I could and jammed it against the door.

It was like the 1812, Ride of the Valkerye and the Hallelujah chorus all thrown into one defining moment of relief. I could swear the earth moved and with a whimpering sigh of joy I let it all go. My pleasure lasted as long as it took for the cubicle door to crash open throwing me backwards and leaving my leg a painful limp and inanimate object. There standing in all her massive glory was Madame the cleaner, cigarette in mouth and brandishing a mop and bucket. I was transfixed to the spot with my hands trying to shield my nether regions and blubbering ‘excuse moi’! She took no notice and started mopping the floor around me as I sat like a petrified gnome. Finally she started prodding my feet with her mop head until I understood she wanted me to raise them so she could do the bits closer around the bowl. The shame of it.

Having cleaned everything bar where I was actually sitting she stood back and stared at me. Very slowly she shrugged her mighty shoulders, shook her head and muttered something like ‘Pah’ and lumbered off to her table with a glimmer of a smile hovering on her lips. She had taught Johnny foreigner a lesson he would not forget in a hurry. ‘Merde’ she felt good.

I made it back to my car with both sets of cheeks burning and drove off. I was embarrassed but the feeling of sheer physical relief far outweighed the humiliation. But I should have known better. Like an earthquake food poisoning does not result in only one big bang. The further I drove away from that hell hole the greater discomfort I felt. What happened next?

Groundhog Day.

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