While watching a golf tournament on TV recently, I was reminded of a complete non-event from thirty four years ago. Close friend Jenny Louis and I were in a train in France, bound for a golf course outside Paris. I have no idea why. Jenny is well-connected, so it must have had something to do with her.The previous night had been spent in Central Paris, Rue du Faubourg St Honore. Our lodgings: the chambre-de-bonne, an apartment designated for the maid of an aristocratic family before the French Revolution. Sounds romantic, but it really wasn’t; especially if you were well-connected. The ablutions were a basin.If you needed the toilet or shower, they were down the passage and had to be shared with the proletariat. The queue and the odour didn’t sit well with my bourgeois upbringing. Jenny’s upturned nose and flared nostrils said it all.
We were bound for the Saint-Nom-La-Breteche Golf Course.The word “google” had not yet found its way into the OED between “goofy” and “googly”, so one actually had to speak to find directions. Not something one does with a great deal of confidence in France, for fear of the look usually reserved for something despicable and filthy e.g a pre-revolutionary pleb, but transferred,in post-revolutionary France, to anyone who doesn’t speak French; I could speak it, so was given that responsibility. Jenny had fitted crease resistant trousers and stilettos into her rucksack and when she unzipped a glossy smile, one would never have guessed that she had enjoyed the same ablution facilities as me the previous night.But her looks and charm were not enough; I had to be there to parler.
The train was full which made reading the station signs tricky; I hovered near the door. Elegant Parisians conducted muted, sophisticated conversations, highly mobile lips on inexpressive faces. We hung onto the ceiling straps, Jen tottering slightly on her stilettos, while I tried to avoid intimacy between Armani Hommes and my armpits. The bulge of my eyes, induced by self-imposed constipation from the previous night’s accommodation went unnoticed.
The train slows down and a large number of people start getting ready to disembark. Fearful of missing the right station, I make my way to the exit. The train stops; the doors open; elegant heels and Italian leather soles step onto the platform, followed by my filthy takkies. Emerging on the platform, I realize Jenny isn’t with me. Vague unease as I look around for her. Nothing. Then I peer back into the train and see her looking disdainfully at me from the comfort of a seat recently vacated by a< >derriere parisien. I look at her; one eyebrow lifts; she shrugs. I ask a stranger the name of the station. He points to the sign that shouts “Vaucresson!!!!” just above my head; the accompanying expression tells me that my stupidite is beneath contempt…either that or he is standing downwind of me.I raise my eyes and read the sign, look back at Jenny, then slink back into the train and sit down opposite her. I feel a lot like Jon would look, after losing an argument to Garfield.
I look out of the window. The train doors shut and it begins to move. I make eye contact with Jenny and notice a smile starting to unzip. The train gathers speed.I look out of the window as another two or three “Vaucresson” signs wave at me. I glance back at her and now we both start giggling. It’s not clear why, but I am being seriously giggled and it is spreading to my shoulders. Eyes back outside. I daren’t look at Jenny again, but don’t need to; her reflection shows thumb and forefinger separated and stretched over her forehead, shoulders also shaking as she studies a tissue scrunched in her other hand.Passengers regard us with bored amusement. Clearly we are ridicule. Now we see each other seeing each other in the window and the hysteria goes up another notch.
“St-Nom-la-Breteche” station eventually comes into view. We pour ourselves out of the train, Jenny trying to keep her stiletto composure while snorting into the tissue; I stumbling ahead of her, trying and failing to guffaw elegantly.
I’m sure our visit to the golf course included an aperitif and some haute or nouvelle cuisine, but the mirth-sparked visit to Vaucresson Station was undoubtedly the highlight of our journey.