Undangerous Liaisons by Colin Cotterill

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Somebody famous (Or it might have been me) once said, “Paris would be the perfect city if it wasn’t clogged up with the French.” I studied French in secondary school which made a considerable contribution to my ongoing fear of frogs. I remember a school visit to Paris in 66 when, armed with two years of French language, I boldly walked around jeveuxing here and silvousplaiting there and everyone, every bloody one of them pretended they didn’t understand what I was saying. And me with a B- in oral French. The humiliation clung to me like a lizard on a freshly varnished bedpost.

But over this past week I learned that that my francophobia was as irrational as a fear of pigeons in crotchless satin underwear. (I can’t for the life of me recall what that one’s called right now.) We’re on the Eurostar to England and I’m here to tell you that the French are pretty darned cool. I confess that I’d had my suspicions that they weren’t as awful as I remembered them. I recall when Eric Cantona raced into the crowd at the end of a football match and kicked the daylights out of a fan who’d been heckling him. I think that’s when I secretly started to like them. You have to admire a man with the balons to do what everyone else on the pitch would love to have done. I have a soft spot for insanity.

We were in Paris for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to discover why my French publisher had translated five of my books but shut down their crime list after only two of them were on la rue. How much of it was my fault? Then there was the chance for me to flash my romantic parts by flying my loved one to Paris to celebrate her birthday. Fellows, I ask you, when was the last time your lover had a chance to see the most impressive erection in the northern hemisphere? We were staying with Hervé (a very annoying name which forces you to click the insert box and search for that slanty thing) who had an old apartment near the river. With a little gymnastic dexterity and a length of rope you could see the Eiffel Tower from his living room. I’d like to think that Jess’s comment, ‘When are they going to finish it?’ was a joke. Hervé (damn) was certainly not the type to kick the bejeabers out of a complete stranger. He’s a shrink so he’s more likely to knee them in the metaphysical goolies with his sharp mind and acerbic wit…then charge them a fortune. Somewhere behind his out-of-tune grand piano is a wardrobe full of wine. And I’m not talking about cardboard casks or Tesco £2.50 grape sweat. These are the types of wine where you need to adjust the temperature of the room before you open them. The types of wine you need to stick your nose in and swill round your pallet – even when you’re really thirsty. We know now we can never go back to Romanian Red Flavoured Wine.

Herve said we could use his place to host Jéssi’s birthday dinner. We bought Thai take-away and beer. I think that’s why half the guests found excuses not to turn up. We almost met Robert Crumb that night and almost heard famous musicians play Happy Birthday to you. But they didn’t come. My old primary school teacher David was passing through town and he regaled everyone with stories about wrong answers I’d given in class fifty years ago. Once the Thai food was finished they brought out the cheese and wine and our ethnic evening vanished. Valerie, my translator was there without her accent grave. She’d made it her cause celebre (feel free to add your own) to rescue her translations of my books from the evil publisher and send them elsewhere. Valerie isn’t the type of person you can say ‘non’ to. In fact you can barely get in any word at all. A translator’s life is lonely so the opportunity to talk passes rarely. There are rumours that she coached Peter Sellers for the Pink Panther movies.

And here we are the next morning with not a hint of a hangover passing underneath a mile of water in a dark pipe. I’m surprised they haven’t made a disaster movie down here. You’re so relieved to get out of it alive that England seems pleasant by comparison. And our fondness for the French travels with us. They may be a little too keen to slobber all over your cheeks but they’re all right. I take back everything I wrote about them in last year’s blob. Frânċäişes, jȇ t’ǻim€.

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