Article - Saltwater

The International Language

By Doug, added on 25/08/2009

This year my Summer Outing was in the South of France – I‘ve never been so was looking forward to going. However, there was one serious drawback, Matron had issued ‘starters orders’ not to bring any fishing tackle! She did not want a repeat of the International Incident last year at Faro Airport involving yours truly, a metal detector, half a dozen heavily armed guards and a tiny packet of hooks; I suppose she was right. Being a resourceful sort, with a cunning, the direct result of 25 years of marriage, I sneaked a couple of hand-lines into the suitcase. Surely nobody could object – could they?

Four hours later, having circumnavigated officialdom in two countries, I was celebrating my minor victory in my head but the resulting vacant expression and lopsided grin nearly resulted in me being rumbled by Matron. She was giving me what can only be described as a distinctly ‘old fashioned look.’ I knew under interrogation I would crumble…. name, rank, number and anything else; shock therapy has that effect. Luckily I was saved from any unpleasantness by the timely arrival of ‘Scrotum,’ the wrinkled old retainer, AKA my brother-in-law with the car to take us to our exotic destination Ste. Maxime – Hurrah!

Most of the holiday passed without too much incident – all right I confess my victory song with the refrain ‘Ou sont les Francais, Les Francais sont dans la merde!’ after a winning stuka shot from yours truly, beat a team of locals at Petanque, may have been a little un-diplomatic but I think they took it very well…..eventually. My sister-in –law, who is fluent in French, explained I had tourettes and needed my medication!

It was about halfway through the sojourn that Matron suggested a boat trip to Ste. Tropez – you know the place where the beautiful people cavort and display their wealth. I slipped a hand-line into my pocket just in case.

We arrived in good order on a really hot day. Doing the usual tourist bit of trolling up and down the harbour front gawping at the rich sitting in their ‘Gin Palaces’ whilst they stare vacantly back, drinking champagne, watching the parade of the unwashed shuffling past for their amusement. I spent a little time looking at the art work of the harbour artists but soon got a little bored, so when Matron was looking at some preposterous fashion items in a boutique for twelve year olds, judging by the clothes sizes, I managed to give her the slip and ducked into a bar selling ‘Belgian champagne’. The old army training comes in useful at times, and ordered four Serieux Stellas (Serieux is French for about a pint) to be drunk in quick time in case of discovery. I couldn’t believe the pretty prices they charge ‘in the land of the beautiful’; eight Euros a pop – no wonder they all drink champagne it’s cheaper!

The inner thirst temporarily slaked, I slipped into a nearby Boulangerie and bought a large baguette filled with chicken and sat down at the far side of the harbour by the slip way. I was eating and looking into the water, out of habit really, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a shoal of decent sized….at this point I forgot to chew and open mouthed, a lump of bread and chicken mash dropped into the water to be promptly necked down by a….Mullet, my nemesis.

I put down my baguette and oh so slowly felt in my pocket for my bijou hand-line, customised for just such a meeting with a 3/8 oz bomb, a size 10 ESP Raptor tied direct to a 12lb fluorocarbon hook-length. I baited the hook with trembling fingers, not the best bait (or joke for that matter, but I like it because it breaks the tension), so I used a bit of chicken and bread instead. A gentle under arm swing put the bait just to the side of the shoal without spooking them – Polaroids down, game on.

The Mullet, fickle as always, seemed to be moving in slow motion towards my bait. I could feel the sweat trickling down my face, my concentration intense; so intense, I was only vaguely aware that a small number of people had gathered behind me, all talking in hushed tones. As if on cue, the mullet swam straight past my hook. I muttered a few choice words at their departing backs, as you do, when an extremely well dressed Frenchman said in good English ‘Bad luck! But if you leave your hook where it is they might return.’ I nodded in agreement. He then indicated he would like to sit down; the growing crowd behind seemed to be getting excited by this turn of events, but my new friend and I sat staring into the water hoping for a magical reappearance of our piscine quarry.

The intensity was rising and when I felt a tingling in my hands I knew the mullet were in the vicinity. When my friend nudged me and pointed I was not surprised, there they were followed by an appreciative buzz in the crowd. This time I knew a fish was going to take. The largest raced in and took the bait. I set the hook by yanking on the line with the fish pulling back equally as hard. The line bit into my fingers as the fish put up a good struggle, who says mullet have soft mouths? I gained the upper hand and was able to pull the fish up the slip way, with my friend jumping down, getting his expensive looking shoes wet, and holding the wriggling mullet above his head shouting ‘Two kilos bien sur’ causing much laughter and applause from our audience. We grinned at each other the way ‘brothers of the angle’ do when success has come.

The moment was short lived however, for out of the crowd marched an officious looking jobsworth shouting ‘Non, ne pechez pas la’ with much finger wagging and head-shaking. Why is it that jobsworths are the same the world over? Bracing myself for another international incident, I was pleasantly surprised when jobsworth caught sight of my friend, stopped in his tracks, mid finger wag, his mouth open, staring wildly and finally croaking ‘ne pechez pas la.’ With that he scuttled back into the crowd with a remarkable turn of speed. My new found friend grinned at this and said ‘We should put the fish back.’ I grinned too and the crowd cheered.

My Friend had just released our fish, when Matron ‘goose-stepped’ through the throng, giving me an accusatory stare, as perfected by women of a certain age, shouting ‘ I might have known you would be at the centre of any trouble. Why is it that I can’t leave you alone for five minutes without something happening?’ I knew was well and truly in the merde this time. My fishing companion, sensing the potential female violence, stepped forward to introduce himself to Matron, applying all the Gallic charm his nation is famous for. ‘My name is Albert, your husband is a good fisherman, ne c’est pas.’ Unbelievably, just like the old Christmas Cointreau advert, the ice melted. Matron, blushed, shook Albert’s hand, smiling at me meekly. What a result for yours truly. Hastily winding in the hand-line and restoring it to my pocket to hide the evidence, I smiled at my ‘new found’ best friend.

To capitalise on my good fortune and in the interests of ‘entente cordiale’ I declared, ‘Time for a celebratory ice cream I think.’ We all agreed making our way to the nearest parlour. It was crowded with tourists but magically I got served straight away; it must be my lucky day, I mused. After we had toasted our success in ice cream, I thought why not take advantage of Matron being strangely subdued and proposed a little tincture to cement international relations. To the nearest bar it was then.

‘Stellas o’clock’ for everyone, with the service swift and polite, unusual in these parts to say the least. Matron was smiling and polite to everyone, even laughing at my jokes…. curiouser and curiouser. A good time was had by all, the Belgians greatest export hitting the spot, but all to soon it was time for us to split the bill and head back to Ste. Maxime on the last ‘bateau vert.’ Albert shook my hand and gave me his card, which I placed in my top pocket without looking at it. He then kissed Matron on both her crimson cheeks and wished us a safe journey. We parted good friends, the international brotherhood of the angle confirming to me that the world is a better place for it!

On the boat, Matron kept looking at me in an unusually non-violent way. Must be the Stella working its magic I thought. She asked for the card Albert had given me, I duly obliged. She studied the card for what seemed like a long time, finally saying ‘ Do you know who your fishing friend was?’ I replied ‘No my sweet, my petal. Pray do elucidate.’ When she had finished telling me, I just looked back at Ste. Tropez and casually replied ‘Fishing is a great leveller, you know.’ Matron stared at me for a few seconds, her eyes rolling and mouth moving like a goldfish, until she could enunciate the legend, ‘You great tit!’ A little harsh, but status normal.

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