Music Played10 items
Gnarls Barkley Crazy
(CD Single), Warner Bros
Cher Gypsies Tramps & Thieves
Cher - The Greatest Hits, Wea/Universal
Nell Bryden Sirens
(CD Single), 157 Records, 1
Nicky Thomas Love Of The Common People
Dancing On Sunshine - 22 Reggae Hits, Polygram Tv
Ricky Martin Livin' La Vida Loca
(CD Single), Columbia
The Jam Eton Rifles
The Jam: The Singles 1977-1979, Polydor
Jeff Lynne At Last
Long Wave, Big Trilby, 1
Emerson, Lake & Palmer Fanfare For The Common Man
The Best Of Emerson Lake & Palmer, Atlantic
Michael Kiwanuka Bones
(CD Single), Polydor
Eric Clapton Forever Man
Eric Clapton - Clapton Chronicles, Reprise
Confession: A Hole New World
Dear Father Simon,
Earlier this year you and the Sisters of Mercy forgave me for convincing an annoying American that Radio 4’s Shipping Forecasts were in fact the cricket scores. I have felt on bit of a roll ever since, so I think it is about time I fully clear my conscience and confess to an earlier crime this time against the French.
On my council estate in Essex back in the 1970s, I was considered something of a cosmopolitan. Whereas my mates had only ever got as far as Clacton or Southend-on-Sea for their summer holidays, I had been on a school student exchange trip to a chicken farm in Schleswig-Holstein and a brief tour of Germany and Belgium with the Essex Youth Orchestra.
We had now all left school and had all got jobs (those were the days) and met in our local pub to discuss our plans for the forthcoming Bank Holiday. Predictably my mates said “let’s go to Southend,” which is what we always did. “No” I said, because, as usual, it will rain and, as usual, we will end up being chased around the town by gangs of furious skinheads. I told them we were now men of independent financial means and it was time for them to join the international jet set. I unveiled before them the wonders of...the day trip to France. They were very excited about this and rushed off to the photo booth at Woolies to get their passport pics, and then to the Post Office to get the over the counter One Year Passport (again, those were the days).
Come the day, all was going well and I was enjoying myself, showing off to my mates what a seasoned international traveller I was. They were wide eyed at the exotic charms of, er, Calais town centre and marvelled at the cheap prices of the French plonk in the supermarket. Lunch was a great success too, my mates culinary experiences had only ever extended as far as greasy spoon cafes, so they were in awe of the restaurant I took them to, for an exquisite banquet, nay a veritable gourmet extravaganza. Or what the French called the 5 Franc Plat du Jour.
Now it was time for my final triumph. For the remaining three hours before the ferry sailed, I took them to a harbour side bar to demonstrate to them that lager was not a girlie drink (as it was considered in the 1970s) but sur le continent was in fact actually quite strong and very palatable.
The beers were flowing, but after an hour or so I noticed my mates becoming a bit fidgety and withdrawn. It soon became apparent that they were suffering from an affliction that affected English people back in the 1970s, of: a) Acute embarrassment at being unable to communicate in anything other than English, and b) A morbid fear of foreign toilets.
They pleaded with me to find out where the toilets were and to check them out. Happy to show off my cosmopolitan ways I strode up to the barman and in my best French boldly demanded: “Ooo ay la twoillettes civil plate?” The barman gave a surly, Gallic nod towards a darkened corridor at the back of the bar. Going down the dark corridor I soon found it, and it was a perfectly normal single cubicle WC with wash basin, just like we had at home.
I returned to the bar, but anxiously waiting for me at the end of corridor was the more desperate of my mates, now in the advanced stages of the wee-wee dance.
“For Goodness sake they’re fine,” I told him, it’s up there on the left and off he shot. On his return he gave instructions to my two other anxious mates who peeled off one after the other with the speed of an Olympic relay team.
Order restored, the lager tasting continued. But Simon, I began to get a bit concerned about some of my mates comments in the margins of our increasingly raucous conversations. Things like ‘French toilets are strange’ or ‘my dad was here in the war and he warned me the toilets were weird.’
A bit later it was my turn to relieve myself. I retraced my steps down the dark corridor and there was the perfectly normal toilet. What were my mates going on about? Then it struck me. I had done the old my left is your right mistake.
Sure enough, on returning to the corridor there was indeed a door on the other side that would have been a ‘la gauche’ for my mates. Sheepishly I peered inside. It was clearly a residential room with a nice bay window overlooking the Channel, but had been stripped of furniture and fittings and was clearly undergoing refurbishment. The floor had been re-concreted and the walls freshly plastered, but a hole had been left, presumably for some wiring, cabling or something like that. And yes, there were three tell-tale indications that thus was what my mates had thought was the legendary French loo.
Yes my idiot, inexperienced mates had mistaken the empty room with a hole in the floor for les toilettes. I hurriedly bundled my mates out of the bar before the electricity shorted and we legged it to the ferry where we hid on the top deck until it sailed, expecting to be boarded by angry Gendarmes at any moment.
So Father Simon, I beg forgiveness from the French bar owner who probably to this day still thinks the English are all filthy ‘cochons’, and for the christening of his freshly re-plastered room. In mitigation, I would say that on our return we all had our first chance as adults to take part in the British electoral system, and we all voted to join the Common Market in the 1975 referendum. So it could be argued we have paid for our mistakes ever since.