We are driving on the Autobahn. In front of us is a wide valley. The sun is shining with glittering rays. The driving strip is a grey track with white stripes, green edge. We are switching the radio on. Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn………..Now thats what I call driving music.
It may beggar your belief, and that is a strange expression, Bruce or no Bruce, but we did manage to make the two hundred or so kilometre motorway ride from Bedarrides to Le Muy in a little over six hours without being arrested or even apprehended in any way
When you really get down to it, this country, La Belle and much visited France is nothing more than a miserable little Polizeistaat. Police Nationale, Police Municipale, Railway Police, lunch-break police The Republican Security Corps and who knows what other species of uniformed peaked capped little Napoleon shitheads that roam the streets licking pencils and inspecting your trousers with disgust.
If that were not enough we also find those particularly nauseating and utterly imperturbable bastards the Gendarmes; lawless morons recruited, or so I am told, solely on the merit of their stupidity and arrogance, there to enforce the very letter of the law with scant regard for common sense or decency; The Johnnys with the lotion that cynically patrol rural zones and six lane highways on beautiful belt drive Beamers. Unfortunately in my case, I can neither beat them nor join them, but I can try. Games without frontiers, tears without fears, will this be a knockout, or just another up and under?
These idiot bastard Gendarmes for some reason are given the authority to stop you at random and by extension, for no particular reason. They Stop you and look threatening, armed to the teeth wearing big barn yard sunglasses, because they only come out to play on sunny days. So heres a Renault four towing two vintage and unregistered mopeds with neither rider equipped with suitable protective clothing or an insurance certificate, on a motorway! And what do you get? Nothing.
What If I had recklessly decided to hand myself in for watching an encrypted DVD on a Linux box huh? Not a law enforcer to be seen, so what about the five hundred similar cases I could and should ask to be taken into consideration? By the way I also grow marijuana by the shed load and download copyrighted material. I drive drunk sometimes too. Arrest me officer for I am felonious and have buggered your credibility. But there was no officer, nothing doing.I’ll just have to give myself a good talking to this time.
Having said all that, we did sail through toll booths, a gendarme’s favourite stomping ground, that’s why they have toll roads in France by the way, in case you were wondering. A very handy place for them to stomp around and arrest people. Sometimes we paid by tossing a handful of coins into the net, sometimes with an in you pop, out you pop quick and dirty credit card transaction. Sometimes, twice in fact not paying at all. It is childishly fun and easy to slip out behind the sucker paying motorist in front just before the laborious safety conscious barrier slaps back down behind you. I kept my ears out for sirens and blue gyrophares (flashing blue lights: La France un point). On both occasions I fully expected to have to take an early shower, but nary a Gendarme or gendarmette to be seen.
I had of course set the mopeds in bicycle mode so we could cruise along at eighty or so. I could attend to their poor sprockets later, these were desperate times, little Taz was in serious trouble and here were the desperate measures.
We all free-wheeled most of the way down from Le Muy to Sainte Maxime to be welcomed by a succession of intricately decorated roundabouts, scenes of a winter wonderland, plastic carrot faced snowmen, ice rinks and loudspeakers full of Jona Lewie . January on the Cote d’Azur, Welcome Bienvenuto, Wilkommen. Little or no expense had been spared on this Christmas extravaganza, so who was paying for all this police presence?
Unofficial reports put the number at over two thousand; a spokesman later declared that a mere five hundred officers had been deployed in the Gulf of Saint Tropez area on Friday January 4th 2013 in response to a massive but anodyne bonfire beach party, a ‘flashmobe at ground zero en quelque sorte on the plage des Salins.’
It turns out that although arbitrary traffic checks are allowed and frequent, they are not as random as you might think and are not performed unless a specific order has been given to be on the lookout for, say a red Renault 4 towing two ancient cyclomoteurs. So today our flagrant disregard of the law was of no importance, instead they gave us monotonous courtesy and sound advice : “If you are heading for Saint-Tropez sirs youre out of luck, were having a spot of bother wiv ze fassbook girlz.”
From the lovely promenade of Sainte Maxime we could see clear across the bay to Saint-Tropez himself, engulfed in a thick and even from here I could sense a deliciously pungent hoppy note in the glaucous billow of sweet sweet smoke.
“A forest fire Sir?” I asked hopefully.
“No Sir, not a forest fire. Now be on your way, there is nothing more to see here, not a dollop, now circulay! Circulay! Be about your own business.”
I phoned Taz, not really expecting to get through, but she picked up.
“Taz! Where the hell are you?”
“I”m on a beach somewhere, Les Salins I think they call it, destroying the evidence and having well, um, a little party. Where are you?”
“I”m with Steve and Eric in Sainte Maxime.”
“Who the hell is Eric? Never mind. Dad, just grab the Turpitude and come and get us, We’ve got the police under control for now, but it wont be long before they get gas masks or send in the flying squad.”
“I cant get to your damned boat Taz, Saint Trop is totally cut off…”
“Dont fret Dad, she’s moored in port Cogolin, sooh much cheaper on an annual basis, do the math!”
“Were on our way darling, but please, lay offa ze Nucky balls.”
“Fuck of Dad, its too late for that, just get here.”
Half an hour later we boarded the turpitude, we had left the mopeds safe, under the watchful eyes of five hundred or more policemen. Three up in a Renault four, boarding the Turpitude; two things I had sworn would never happen again. Desperate Dan will have his cow pie and enjoy his comeuppance. Lister! Yellow-robed and vile he turned towards us briskly as we tottered up the gangplank. Lister, flashing a horrible gleaming smile:
“Eh up lads, its a small world innit?”
Small but not half big enough for the both of us I thought crossly.
“Lister, what the hell do you think youre doing wearing my dressing gown?” Steve was furious.
“Lister what the hell are you doing here on the boat?” I asked him straight. “Lozzi said she had chucked you overboard at Cadix.”
“She did, the little vixen, but I luv er, so I stashed meeself away on board wiout ’er knowing.”
“Dont you mean stowed away?”
“Yes I do.”
“Hand over my cloak asshole!” Steve would not let go.
“Pooh! It were me that found it fair and square, thought it were a bloody jelly-fish at first, but no its a ruddy Derek Rose, can’t leave summat like that in’t watter for’t seagulls now can you? Note the shawl collar and piped finish, a pure wool mens dressing gown with breast pocket and two side pockets. Finished with an elegantly tassled belt. A cut back yarn on the outside gives it the soft velour finish and the looped yarns inside maximise absorption of water and enhance the drying quality. T’perfect sleepwear add-on for any gentleman’s wardrobe. A luxury robe for all seasons.
I had never though of this boy as such a discerning gent but did still wonder if all this professional Yorkshireman business was an elaborate and tiresome practical joke. My annoyance at finding the horrid little stowaway on board was short lived when it dawned on me that he would be the only one of the four of us who actually knew how to drive the damned boat.
“Now look here old chap,” I said well-meaning, “My darling daughter and your lovely wife are in imminent danger, serious bother and on the brink of untimely grief, Is their any chance of you sailing us round to Les Salins Beach?”
“Bloody ell!” Says the lad leaping into immediate action and shouting orders at the three of us:
“All ’ands abaft! Rodney athwartships you can be me decky, Maurin, avast the cleat and raise the driver, and you Steve, up the spanker mast with you, barrelman!” And with the spite and malice of a true Yorkshireman finally laying to rest my doubts about his authenticity, added unnecessarily: “Raglan sleeves mate, raglans I’m tellin’ yer.”
In response to our understandable blank looks and total absence of any form of industrious behaviour, Lister began with chiding insults :
“are you pissed or barmy? Simpering pussy boys, great stupid baloons. Chop Chop, get bloody well movin!”
The three of us just stood and stared.
“What is it you actually want us to do man?”
Which to him was nothing but a red rag. “If owts worth doin, do it yer sen.” he muttered grievously to himself before he started running about the deck, deftly making a cunt-splice here and a cringle there, untying, pulling and retying all manner of complex ropes and cables. A performance so reminiscent of a vintage Peter Gabriel stage show; one minute lying recumbent, then on all fours or in a foetal position. The next moment he was up again strutting awkwardly towards another task, singing all the while and finally strode, keep on trucking style, jubilant up to the bridge. “Ahoy landlubbers, Thunderbirds are go!”
It was almost dark as we silently rounded the final creek and fir lined strand. We anchored some two hundred metres from a beach lit up by a mountainous fire and alive with a steady pounding reggae beat, “Get doon, get doon too it Whoah, Haway the lads! This music was the last word in smokers requisites, a whoop and then another, whoop! The unmistakable blather of Mister Earl Gateshead MC and his red beret Trojan Sound system resounded and entertained. Is everybody having a good time? I sure am, like you knew that I would now. Do the trouser press babies one, two, three!
An estimated many thousands of revelling stoners filled the wintery beach with joy and delusion. The summertime bars, cafes and snacks had spontaneously reopened and were full to the brim. I watched it all with delight through the ship’s binoculars; Taz and Lozzi stoking the fire, a swarm of minor French celebrates; Beckham and Posh, a couple of Bonos and Dwight too, if my night-lights serve me well. No wonder the police were holding back.
“Well what’s keepin yer? Go get them girls Now!”
An angry Lister, thumping his pigeon chest with feeble fists of anguish. He was right of course but there was no such immediacy about the thing. As far as I could remember, there was just one fairly narrow road leading up to this beach, which would no doubt be occupied by several brigades of half cut Gendarmes trying to decide what to do. The only escape route was by sea. “No Lister”, I said in a overbearing tone. “Let’s wait and watch for a while, see how things pan out.” The real reason for my reticence was of course fear of a tearful reunion with the Earl of Gateshead and I still owe him a tenner for a stupid game of slap-down patience we played in Tulse Hill back in the seventies.
Lister was not a man who liked taking orders, while preparing to chuck the life raft overboard he handed me the end of a long rope and said bewilderingly: “give it good ducks arse crotchet to’t brigand bar and Il’l be back within’t ‘our wit’ lasses.”
He wasnt back within the hour and was never realistically expected to be so, for even though I did get the gist of his guidance to attach the rope firmly to a sturdy part of the boat, I did not, nor did I ever have any intention of doing so.
“Au revoir Lister and jolly good luck old fellow!”
Then we heard them, the dull and heavy low pitched rumpus of powerful engines, heard them clearly above or rather below his Lordship’s thumping bass strings and the rowdiness of the swinging throng.
“The bastard!” Eric screamed with real venom, bastard bastard bastard!”
“Which particular one do you have in mind?” I enquired, trying to sound like a Gendarme.
“My fucking father that’s who!”
“Well you certainly do pick a good time for an adolescent crisis dont you son?”
“No you twat, I mean my dad the Ministre de l’Interieur. He’s called in the Canadairs!”
“Called in the what?”
“The water bombers! In about ten minutes theyll be dropping millions of litres, right on the beach there. They’ll put out the fire and scatter them all in five seconds flat. Then they can just round everybody up at their leisure and its curtains for Tazzi and Loz.
We had just ten minutes then to sit and watch helplessly and wait for pandemonium; how many sandwiches for a taste of that?
”Well I’m jolly well not going to sit here doing nothing while those bounders try to spoil our fun!” Just why Steve thought he was one of the famous five at this time is unclear, but with the help of his chum Eric he had found a big box of flares and began in earnest to light up the heavens.
What would I not have given a few years ago to be blissfully stoned on a Mediterranean beach under a bright tangerine sky unwittingly waiting for ten years worth of rainfall to drop in one swoop from a funny little yellow aeroplane? But it was my beloved daughter out there, not me and I had only been slightly affected by the few scudding clouds of Nucky smoke that had drifted our way. I watched with a sullen fascination as the planes finally arrived and the bombardment began. These people, who I am sure would have stripped off and danced under the worst thunderstorm that mother nature could throw at them, were taken completely by surprise and Eric had been right; five seconds flat and it was all over, and Chester Burnett, you really are a bastard.
The three of us on board could not find words or even look at each other, our heads buried deep in our hands and I thought I even heard Eric slightly sobbing, then I did hear,something, very loud and clear, two very wet, stoned and gigglesome girls thrashing around playfully in the water below. “Dad! Maurin! Steve! One of you chuck us a bleedin’ rope why don’t you?”