Monsieur So British #5: Bloody, but unbowed

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

#5: Bloody, but Unbowed

I don’t really know what we expected when we set up the B&B, even the goals were a bit fuzzy. Of course health means I can’t travel like I have been doing for the 15 years we’ve lived here, that is by the cheapest, most brutal, crack of dawn modes of transport between rural France and work in the UK. The aim was always to arrive at the gig in good time but also to get home as soon as travel would allow which meant that every week for 15 years I would miss, at the very least, one night’s sleep. That I kept that up for so long now seems insane and that it’s taken its physical and, let’s be honest, mental toll totally unsurprising; my body is broken and my spirit, well, let’s just say I can be a bit cranky.

Of course my irascibility, it has been cruelly suggested, may have absolutely nothing to do with either my physical decrepitude nor my travel induced levels of exhaustion and may in fact just be who I am, a short-tempered dark cloud of perpetual simmering dyspepsia. Well, I reasoned, cutting back on the travel will prove all you people wrong. Regular sleep patterns, the tranquility of rural France, the cosy warmth of the homestead and the love of a close knit family… the real me will come shining through like a ray of sunshine, I argued. A calmer, gentler, more patient person will emerge like a serene butterfly from the chrysalis of spleen. Just you wait, I said.

‘Where the hell are my sodding glasses now?!’ I shouted, stomping around the front room like a bilious cop doing a house search. ‘Every time I put something down, one of you anarchists moves it somewhere different. It’s like living with a troop of chimpanzees. Where the bloody hell are they?’

‘You’re wearing them, daddy!’ Maurice said, without looking up from his phone.

‘Not these ones! My new ones. Where. Are. THEY?!’

I’d had my new glasses about a fortnight. I’d fallen for one of those TV ads about cheap glasses and sent off my prescription for varifocal, photochromic lenses and paid 250€ instead of the 650€ quoted on the high street. They were rubbish frankly, the varifocal transition was so badly done I had a permanent squint and the photochromic reaction time so slow that I had dark lenses indoors and clear ones outdoors. But they had saved me 450€ and that is way more important than eyesight. Maybe it’s me, I thought, persevering with the damn things. I just need to get used to them.

‘There they are daddy!’ Cried Thérence, pointing at Kipper who had sauntered into the room. And there they were indeed, or what was left of them. Kipper had the remaining glasses arm sticking out of his mouth like a child affecting a pipe yet simultaneously trying to look innocent, as if the thing wasn’t there. Like I say, I didn’t really know what to expect from the B&B but that day I’d been up since 6, had done breakfasts for 12 people, cleaned and re-dressed three large bedrooms and was bloody knackered. I didn’t need my new glasses to be used as a toothpick by some nihilist 4 month old English Setter. I began dreaming wistfully of empty 5am train platforms and invasive airport body searches, suddenly I missed them very much. Whatever I had expected from the B&B it certainly wasn’t to be as busy or as jiggered as this. I thought I’d whack out a few croissants early doors, hoover up a bit and then be done by 10, but as soon as spring hit we were sold out for the summer. Every day. Now, I’d love to claim to be some kind of hotel marketing genius here, but it’s just pure luck. Well, location and luck, but mainly luck.

The ZooParc de Beauval is, according to the publicity, one of the World’s Top Five Zoos, it also has a primetime evening TV slot, like Springwatch or similar, about its daily comings and goings and, more importantly for us, it’s 20 minutes down the road. I love the place. I have an annual ‘passport’ and go often in the winter to sit in the Orangutang house just to be in the presence of Manis the matriarch of the buffoonery (really, that is the collective noun) of the Beauval Orangutangs. She is anything but a buffoon is Manis, she is the calmest creature I have ever come across, exuding a tranquility and what feels like the wisdom of the ages through her large, brown eyes. I could learn so much from her, indeed I do. In the winter. The key here is ‘in the winter.’ The ZooParc de Beauval while filling out our little B&B is a victim of its own success, every evening people come back dazed and beaten from the crowds, the rudeness of the crowds in particular. And though it’s a great conservation zoo, even if it’s sad that they have to exist at all, it also works its ‘show’ animals hard. The seals do four shows a day in the summer, four! That’s the kind of punishing schedule that killed Elvis in Vegas, well that and the cheeseburger/opiate diet as well and I hope the seals aren’t on that. In the summer 90% of our business is families going to the zoo, and you can throw your hands up and shout ‘hey lads, what about the chateaux, wine and cheese?’ It doesn’t matter. Overworked seals, rented Pandas and zen like Orangutangs is where it’s at and though I’m very grateful for it, it’s now mid August and I’m worn out. Worn out like a performing seal is worn out, but without the fish. Though I do have the opiates.

The thing to do obviously is organise yourself and I’m good at that. Breakfast times are allotted, my PB at turning a room around gets lower everyday, I am OCDing the hell out of B&Bery and you know what? It doesn’t make a bit of difference. Why? Because you can organise as much as you want; that wardrobe is for linen, that half hour is to prepare breakfast fruit salads, the washing will be done by such and such a time, the room keys are kept in this drawer… and so on. You can aim to do all those things and then a puppy rocks up and goes, ‘hey man, relax. I’m just going to eat this duvet and shit in your cutlery drawer.’

The bell on the gate rang heralding the arrival of new guests. Should I put Kipper away or just pick him up? I went for the latter. ‘Bonjour,’ I said calmly, a writhing, eel-like Kipper in my arms licking my neck and chin, his sharp teeth not biting as such but I could feel them. ‘Yann,’ I said, ‘enchanté,’ which is something I find hard to say without sounding like Pepé le Pew. The middle aged couple at the gate looked at me in horror, clearly in the space of three words I had committed some horrible faux pas.

‘Monsieur,’ said the man in English, ‘you seem to be bleeding heavily from the chin.’

I looked down and true enough, my Fred Perry shirt was covered in blood. Young Kipper and his puppy teeth had lacerated my face and I was, indeed, bleeding heavily from the chin. I withdrew my blood soaked hand. These poor people had come for a zoo-inspired rural retreat and been met by a scene from Carrie.

There was a whimpering sound. A pathetic little cry it was too.

‘Your dog is whimpering also, I think,’ said the man.

‘No, no,’ I answered, ‘that was me. Welcome to La Pause.’

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 if you’d like a listen. they’re only 15 minutes long… 

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