Monsieur So British #19: Travelling Light

Sunday, December 1st, 2019

#19: Travelling Light

I stood by the kitchen island and smiled warmly at the businessman as he came downstairs for his breakfast. The place was laid out just as I like it. On the island was a selection of exotic juices and yoghurts; homemade jams, a jug of milk, fresh baguettes and still warm Viennoiserie, croissants, pains au chocolat, pains aux raisins and so on. The coffee filled the place with a warm, comforting aroma and the breakfast fruit salad glinted like jewels in a bowl in the early morning light. The table was laid for one, and the businessman seemed impressed at the trouble I’d gone to, even though he was the only guest in our B&B.

‘Bonjour,’ he smiled and shook my hand awkwardly, some people insist on these formalities at breakfast, and then he pointed at my hair, ‘is it raining outside?’ he asked.

My wet hair was the only clue left in the place that gave any hint at all to the total and utter flapping mayhem that had dominated the preceding fifteen minutes.

I had been slightly ahead of schedule, I usually am, and was floating confidently around the kitchen with something of a rare jaunty air when suddenly, like a test car on a skid pan, I hit a patch of water, flipped 180 degrees and finished lying face down on the stone floor tiles. This was not part of the breakfast plan. It wasn’t difficult to trace the source of the water though as it was still pouring through a ceiling beam and hitting my face. For a second I lay there and responded in typical Moore fashion by swearing at the Gods and all their pernicious ways – then I sprang into action. The businessman was taking a shower in his room directly above the kitchen-salon. The fact that he was taking a shower drew more colourful language and a fist shake at the Heavens, ’It’s a bath, mate, not a bloody shower. Take a bloody bath!’ I grabbed some towels from my linen wardrobe and threw them on the wet floor, then I stuffed a couple more towels in the gap between the beam and the ceiling. The shower stopped upstairs which meant the flow of water downstairs would end soon, but then I noticed that a river had built up on a groove in the beam, run along the beam and was now dripping onto my island, narrowly missing the baguettes – nobody wants soggy baguettes for breakfast – but dripping so neatly into the toaster, it looked almost like an indoor water feature.

I gave off a kind of Basil Fawlty whimper and stood blinking at the bread grilling time-bomb in front of me. The toaster was the companion piece to the kettle, high class DeLonghi kitchenware, but until now unused. I mean, we serve fresh French baguettes, I’m at the boulangerie at the crack of dawn, only an animal would toast fresh baguettes… I removed the toaster from view, mopped the island, cleaned the floor, titivated my breakfast display and then heard the door open upstairs and so quickly shoved all my wet towels into the oven, slammed the oven door shut, placed my hands nonchalantly on the island and smiled warmly at the businessman as he came downstairs for his breakfast. This is where we came in and only my wet hair gave me away.

I regard it as one of my main achievements as a B&B host, small time hotelier, call it what you will that, for the most part, I manage to suppress my natural inclination to spiky crankiness. It’s part of the job, and though I fall off the wagon occasionally, I keep a pretty firm lid on things, bite my tongue and lie back and think of England as it were. However, if I worked as a flight attendant for a budget airline for example, I’d have left the water flowing into the kitchen, shouted at the businessman that it was his fault, told him to shove his knob in the toaster and then turned the heat up. The heavily made up flight attendant, they used to be called stewardesses but that would imply a level of service that doesn’t exist in budget airline travel, whereas flight attendant has the necessary whiff of low level Gestapo, was literally going through the motions of the safety demonstration. She flounced robotically without smiling and, despite so many layers of make up the base layer was probably turning into coal, she wore an expression that could be roughly translated as ‘don’t come running to me if we drop 30,000 feet into a hillside you ungrateful bastards.’ She was also, absurdly, a breath of fresh air after the acrimonious herding and cattle prodding of Charles de Gaulle airport.

That there is no longer any glamour in air travel is a given, but what the Aéroport Charles de Gaulle has done is taken that drop in standards, run with it, and come up with a range of anti-traveller systems so punitive that live animal exports look like a cruise on the QEII by comparison. Just tasering all prospective flyers and subjecting us to unconscious invasive body searches would be a welcome step up in comfort. In order to comply with my renewed instructions to ‘relax’ more, I’d stayed at a hotel on the airport the night before so that I might just gently stroll through passport and baggage security, rather than get up at 4am and battle the Paris rush hour. I hadn’t banked on CDG trying out the latest in self-inflicted airport anarchy.

The queues were enormous, and even though I had in theory plenty of time, my hard won French nationality means that I take the idea of airport queuing as something of a challenge now, so I pushed in. It was like elbowing your way to the front line of a battle, it was utter carnage. Fights were breaking out, arguments loudly conducted like it was pub closing time. There is simply no way you can go through this and in any way conform to doctor’s orders and ‘relax’. I swear I saw the Dalai Lama in another security queue tell a uniformed guard to remove his own belt and shove it up his hole.

‘Put that bag in another tray!’ Snapped the security man. I was already semi-naked by now, my neatly packed suitcase and small hand luggage all but emptied.

‘I’ve already got four trays on the go,’ I pointed out, which was an affront to his petit commandant authority so he picked my bag up, strewing things on the floor. It wasn’t a deliberate act, but he wasn’t going to apologise for it either. ‘Well played,’ I said, ‘is it your first day?’

It was a rookie error. In the same way that you never upset a waiter in a restaurant for fear of unhygienic food-related retribution, you don’t piss-off stressed out airport security with ill-fitting uniforms and Napoleon complexes. Each of my trays was therefore ‘randomly’ chosen for further inspection, despite the entire aircrew of a Delta Airlines flight having treated their hand luggage like it was supermarket sweep and were carrying whole crates of Muscadet, clearly having nipped over to Paris just to stock up for Thanksgiving.

What’s my point in all this? Well obviously the conclusion is that I’m making excuses for not relaxing, holding a mirror up to my world and saying to you look, this is my life, how do you possibly expect me to glide zen-like through this pandemonium, even if it is on doctor’s orders? Well, you’d be wrong. I think I’ve reached the point where my existence is so laughably chaotic at times, so grindingly, unerringly governed by spiteful travel regulations and timetables or reacting to comic, slapstick near-disasters while being in constant, vindictive pain that I have indeed found a sort of calm. I’ve been at the eye of the storm and now, Matrix-like, I have it under control or at least see it for what it is. That’s this week anyway, next week is more heavy-travel and the traditional pre-Christmas French strikes begin as well… I can’t see this mood lasting, but I’m going to try and enjoy it while I can.

The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight. It’s here on itunes and it’s on spotify  and acast, if you’d like a listen. They’re only 15 minutes long…

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