Whatever Happens, It Cannot Be As Bad As…

I went to bed laughing last night. Unfair as how I was rudely awoken this morning at 9:30am by a man on the make. After my so-so day yesterday and nearly being squashed by a 2.4m road width (okay I maybe have a little dent), I assessed my surroundings before parking up. Not wanting to incur the wrath of two beach side restaurants, I had decided to park in the make-out zone, just as far into the light as I could manage. Apart from the three distinct entrances, the rest of the car park was fenced off, or had been, probably about ten years ago. On the outside of the fence was a sign that said “public car park in progress” by the local council. This was the only signage, in areas where they have no holds on sticking pay-per-hour on it. To the rear, a less scrubby looking area had at some point been tarmacced, so I figured if they had not finished that one, they were unlikely to reach my bit within the next 24 hours.

At 9:30am this old guy in an orange t-shirt banged 3 times on my van. Needless to say there wasn’t an immediate response from myself, I tentatively got up and dressed and stuck the coffee on whilst watching him through a half undrawn blind. He had set himself up a table and chair by the entrance to the main street. The sides of the main street in front of the restaurants were filling up with beach goers and soon they would need to make use of this bit of scrub land. I was parked in say the second row of cars, if there had been enough trysts to exhibit the need to park more formally, and as I watched, drinking my coffee over the first cigarette of the day, the first row of cars started coming in. Signor Entrepreneur was too busy trying to faff about getting the attention of the Cabiniere or someone to speak English to come and talk to me, that none of those new arrivals paid any money. Even a couple of cars that arrived as he sat there were not approached. And still there was no other sign apart from the “car park in progress”. Ok, I may not want to stay where I am in the way but I was sure as hell not paying for it! As I opened the dashboard curtains and opened the choke, he approached (behind him a car pulled up with something like ‘Guida’ on it which I assumed he’d called for. I wound down my window as he approached, he obviously knew I knew it was him who had banged the van.
“2 Euros to park for the night”
“2 Euros?”
“2 Euros,” very cheap in comparison to some of the dumps I thought, but I was indignant “for how many hours?”
“2 Euros to park” he thought he wasn’t getting through.
“Yes, but for how long? I looked for the sign, where is it?” Rumbled!
“Very good” he mumbled as he walked away, shrugging away the services of the back up car. I waved at him as I left.

So that was a positive experience. When I chatted to Helen about my absolute confidence failure, hence the desire to eat out yesterday, we had concluded that whatever was to happen, I could walk away. No one would give a toss either way, it was that simple. Only the regret in not trying in the first place would be the problem. Absolutely I said, and it isn’t even as if I haven’t done it before, it’s just I haven’t got the confidence I did back in my twenties. Well not confidence really, it was probably more of a niaivety, truth were known. Now I have got an extra 20 years of baggage and scepticism and an understanding of those on the receiving end. Mulling it all over last night in search of the old blaze twenty-something, the whole, unmittigating,  embarrassing truth had hit me.

No, it could never be worse than testicles.

Whilst my friend Charlotte and I had hitch-hiked through France for a summer in the early nineties, we had found ourselves in a similar situation with the cash flow and it had been suggested that we should try doing the vendange, grape harvest. We were smack bang in the middle of Beaujolais country and it was mid August. If there was a way to experience a country, living and working with the natives then this was it (this is also what I am aspiring to on this trip when I eventually get my ass in gear). We joined an extended family, the Gardettes, on their farm where they both grew and brewed the wine themselves. After a hard day in the fields we would return and shower ready for a big working party meal in the evening with the whole family and the complete work force. The only draw back was that everyone, apart from a couple of adolescent, transient workers like us, spoke French, but this was exactly as it was supposed to be. I remember once being the butt of a joke as I had used the familiar form of ‘you’ to Mme Gardettes and I blushed on realising what I had done. Another time, as we were asked if the sleeping arrangements were ok, boys and girls were separated in bunks in the garage, I had tried to explain in my best French that yes indeed they were ok. More so, as when Charlotte and I shared the two-man tent I snored and so she was at least getting away from that. I can’t roll my Rs, never have been able to. When I was young I remember day’s out in an ambulance to go and see a speech therapist to sort out my Rs and Ss. So when I tried to say ‘ronfle’ the French for snore, it came out as ‘gonfle’, the French for ‘engorge’. The whole room hearing that Charlotte couldn’t sleep because of my nocturnal hard-ons.

When we had finished clearing the vines in the vicinity of Beaujeu that formed part of the collected Beaujolais Nouveau, we were then drafted, literally like a military unit, to the good stuff. Up with a roll call at 5:30am to breakfasts of bowls of coffee and shipped out at 6am for an hour’s ride to the hanging vines on the edge of the Loire valley. This was for the classic La Fayette version that Mssr Gardette made his name on. Depending on the time of your appearance on the drive, determined if you made it in the land rover,the 4×4 or the trailer on the back of the tractor. Instinctively you knew that their would always be the reserved seats and that if you had ridden in a more comfortable carriage in the morning, you relegated yourself the the bone shaker on the way back. It wasn’t just a vibrating ordeal of a journey, after a day of reaching and stretching and carrying containers on your back, this after a week of bending and kneeling, you were so stiff you could hardly move and ached in places you never knew existed. But here you were kneeling again in a trailer towed behind a tractor banging along uneven country roads for an hour. Comfort was not an option as you shifted and squirmed and tried not to impose into the space of the person opposite, such was the size of the trailer. The shoulders of the people on either side of you keeping you upright as you tucked your chin under your knees and fell asleep with the exhaustion. I remember the distraught face, nearly tearful, of a young ‘Marie’, no more than a delicate 16 year old French girl, from a middle class family, probably never having endured anything on this scale before.

It was on an evening after one of these trips that Mme Gardette was talking to her young son at the table. In the first couple of days of the job, our English resolve didn’t allow us to fully understand what was happening with the aperitifs and the wine that flowed freely, the offer of wine was not just limited to the evening meal, but appeared in the vineyards from elevenses. The simple fact was it acted as a pain killer! So after about the third night, we allowed ourselves to indulge, including one particular over-indulgence of aperitifs by Charlotte at the hand of an amorous Frenchman (though nothing happened before he was dragged off one lunchtime in the hands of the French police). We rose and fell with the swell of jovialities from then on, occasionally getting clarification on somethings we weren’t quite sure of from our dare-to-talk-English compadres. This particular evening, not a lot more was needed in the explanation front as Mme Gardette and her ten year old son were talking testicles at the dinner table.
Testicles. In English the word is almost spat out in two syllables, tes-  tickles.
In French, the word is seemingly rolled around the mouth and savoured before divulging the whole word onto its audience  tess- tee- qewl- lay!
complete with the exclamation at the end.

One didn’t really need to be involved with the whole conversation to find the humour and join in laughing, unless it seemed that you were a middle class sixteen year old girl. This and many other nights of diverse experiences embellish the fond memories we create and hold on to as building blocks for who we are today.

Growing up in the 1970s was a time of make do and mend, perhaps not as much as the war years, but our parents were the children of those times and shared with us their experiences of hand-me-downs and hand-me-rounds. As a family, we had our fair share of that too and it was in this spirit that I found myself in my mid-twenties. I’ve never been a follower of fashion, well except for that brief period as a back-combed mohair Goth in the Eighties, so I usually don’t care what I am wearing as long as it is comfortable and it does the job that it’s intended to do. Recently I have cleared out a wardrobe that consisted of items of clothing that were too old to even be considered retro. I had a pair of jeans that had holes in the knees that were beginning to lose their sense of shabby chic to a more ravaged by werewolves type of look. I didn’t want to lose them as they were comfortable so I set about turning them into shorts, in the styles of my 1970s heroes such as Chips, Dukes of Hazard and Starsky and Hutch. (Yes I know this is mid-90s but it’s a gay thing as I couldn’t do the Magnum moustache).

I am sure that it was Mel or Helen that came to my rescue, again, in a similar vein to the whole dungaree episode (they had stolen them from my room and posted them to Lancashire to make sure I would not commit social suicide twice). They explained that although the principal is sound, men and women aren’t built the same, and if you are going to turn jeans into shorts – for a man – you really have to not precisely cut across the seem of the crotch. My mind was blank. I didn’t get it. Listen, just, have you actually tried bending down in them or anything? What? Of course I have. It’s not like I haven’t done it bef…

Brain switches back to four years previous to a summer adventure in France.


I was slimmer then, almost wiry. Under the summer heat of the south of France, working up a sweat in the vineyards I had turned a pair of old blue jeans into cut offs. I see the pained,grimacing face of the middle class sixteen year old opposite me in the trailer. Holding my knees to my chin trying to dream myself out of the gruesome trailer, unaware of the eternal nightmares me and my tess- tee- qewl- lay! are bestowing on her.

Now whenever I think of that moment, that ride, that raucous base laughter around the dinner table, I cannot help but emblazon in shame. So, yeah, whatever I do here in Italy, however I may make a complete cock up with the language or my actions. Whatever happens, it cannot ever be as bad as testicles.

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