Back to Go Native
Dearest Sound Guides,
I write this from La Sante Prison in the 14th arrondisement of the so-called city of lights. The Gauloise cigarettes I have obtained from the guards are running low. They cost me my gold pocket watch.
Damn, damn, damn! I spit blackened phlegm and curse the name Paris at the sleeping form of my cellmate. The bastard does not wake. I kick him. I had hoped the petty mugger would have arisen to beat me into sweet unconsciousness.
How did this all come to be? Will I ever see dear stalwart Brenda again? Oh how I long for the sweet air of Surrey and the sensible conversation of an Englishman!
Well let me see. Think Benjamin! We must start at the beginning and end at the end. Or we shall be no better than the Ottoman Turk.
It all began last Thursday. I was hiding from my therapist in the smoking lounge at White's indulging in a Turkish coffee when suddenly it struck me. I had, it seemed, come to an impasse in my career. Father was threatening to drastically reduce my funds. Sophie had returned to her family home in the Cotswolds and even Robert refused to accompany me on my afternoon walks.
All this had come to pass because I had made the error of revealing a savage alter ego to the world. An alter ego that I thought had been contained all the years ago at Eton.
The unfortunate revelation had taken place at a charity ball at Buck Pal. I remember only that I was dancing on the table singing 'God gave rock and roll to you' and threatening the ladies present with a blancmange. Afterwards I had spent weeks in despair, weeping in my Knightsbridge flat, re-reading Byron. But now, now with a flash of insight it came to me. I must leave. I must embark upon a grand tour.
Brenda! Only dear Brenda remained faithful, like an insensible but loving puppy. God knows how long the funny little crone has been working sans pay. She muttered one of her folkloric West Country wives tale to comfort me about my alter ego.
But I knew that the truth was far, far worse.
No peace for the sinner! I set about having Brenda arrange my travel plans while I sipped Pimms on the Lawn and considered Europe. Ah Europe! Cradle of all that is good in the world! The beacon of light that has shone since times forgotten!
All of a sudden I was recalled of a weekend in London not three months passed. A weekend that had started with your interminably crass website and a drunken wager. It was then that I made the regrettable decision to 'turn on the Computer and access the Information contained in the grand electronic archives of the Internet' as young ones put it. There I soon found it. The unholy of unholys. The document of my doom and malady. The Paris Immersive Travel challenges.
Brenda begged me not to 'print them off'. She threw black country curses at the device and attacked it with a duster. But it printed on relentlessly. With every thunk and buzz of the machine I had the strangest sense that padlocks were being attached to my soul. But then it was there. In my hands. And the game was irrevocably in play.
Brenda acquiesced. She hung great copper chains adorned with images of the saints and martyrs around her neck and then she dragged the luggage out to the taxi. I extinguished my café crème and poured my gin into the rose bed. And so it began.
While Brenda was guarding the luggage in the freight section I had some time to myself in the 1st class carriage of the Eurostar. I decided upon a nom de guerre in case I needed to become incognito. Experience had taught me to remain 'en guarde' and to keep my 'sang froid' at all times when navigating the 'demi monde' of public transport. So I decided to introduce myself to the good people of Paris as Monsieur Hyde.
Morning. June. Paris. The Left Bank. I awoke with a start in a fifth floor hotel room. Brenda was asleep on the floor. I kicked her as I opened the curtains. Brenda dressed and washed me while I skim read le Figaro. Then we descended the rickety spiral staircase to take le petit dejeuner. We ate croissants and apricot jam followed by coffee.
Refreshed and full of the hopeless optimism of the adventurer I strode out into the Parisian morning and casually bid the concierge 'Bonjour!'. He spat on the floor and doubled over in fits of silent laughter. Undeterred I asked him where I could obtain the loan of a bicycle in my best French. He replied:
"Vous ne comprenez pas un mot que je dis ! Vous branleur anglais."
I was a little chastened, as I did not quite understand his directions. I took his hand gesture to mean one block up. Damn my impeccable French. I must learn the ill used, 'rough and ready' street argot of the French commoner. It seems Paris has changed.
After several similar incidents I finally allowed Brenda to discover the location of suitable transport by performing a vulgar and bizarre mime about riding a bicycle.
Once in the shop, I procured the loan of a fine road bike for myself and a skateboard for Brenda. It was thus that we headed forth for the leafy district of Montmartre.
With the wind in my hair and the joyful sound of my gleaming bell tolling I felt like a bon vivant! I smiled at the pretty Parisienne ladies and they called out to me as I passed.
"Va te faire foutre!'
I heard the clattering sound of Brenda fall off her skateboard and roll in the gutter as we reached the foot of Montmartre Butte. I had seen some buttes in my time but Montmartre is one of the steepest . Those who have any experience of riding steep buttes will forgive me for sending Brenda up with the bike. I rode the funicular.
From the hilltop we surveyed Paris. Brenda set up my easel and canvas and left me to paint. She begged leave to take sanctuary in the shade of The Basilica de Sacre Couer. I was utterly absorbed by my muse.
Twenty minutes later my impressionist canvas was complete. Manet would have cut off his own head if he had seen my work. It was so perfect, so daring, so avant garde that had I only been born 120 years ago the name of Spelk would now be in every art school library in England.
I took the work to the Place de Tertre and there attempted to trade it for a bowl of onion soup and a glass of absinthe just as Picasso would have done. The fools shooed me on like savages turning down the offer of gold bars for naught but beads and whiskey. I shouted aloud at the café owner.
"Everything the artist spits is art!"
Suddenly a crowd surrounded me. A huge debate erupted spontaneously. The mood darkened. One large gentleman was shouting at me that I was a fool and I that I wouldn't know art if it flowed from a hole in my neck. I decried him as a philistine and told him his own work was infantile and reminiscent of the Flemish school. He removed a leather glove and slapped me thrice across the face crying
"I demand my satisfaction!"
The crowd became as silent as the grave in a heartbeat. I realized I would have to duel the man. A strange old fellow appeared from nowhere and led us both away from the square to a woody grove. The crowd followed in solemnity like a funeral party.
The little old man furnished us with sabers. I took a few swipes at the air to get a feel for the blade and promptly dropped it. There were chuckles at the back. I heard an American child whimpering.
"Mommy! Why are they fighting?"
"Oh honey this is just a show for the tourists! Isn't it quaint!"
Oh how I wished the deluded Madame was correct.
"En Guarde!" Cried the old man!
My opponent knocked the sabre from my hand in a moment, but before he could drive his blade deep into my heart a strange war cry and a flash of colour came through the air. My opponent disappeared. It was Brenda! She had performed an aerial assault with an impressive skate board manouveure. She had in fact knocked the mans head clean off. In the ensuing confusion we escaped on the bicycle. I sat on the handlebars as we sped off down the hill, shouting behind me 'Never forget the name of Monsieur Hyde!'
The image of the American boy, weeping at the sight of the decapitation of an artist on Montmartre Butte, will stay with me forever.
Elated and terrified we rode on for some time until we arrived in the Place Du Concorde in central Paris. Look Brenda! I cried. For it was indeed the bottom of the legendary Champs Elysees, location of one of the most important of the days challenges. We alighted in the Square and I put on the yellow jersey and revealing shorts of a tour de france legend! I took the bike and tied Brenda's skate board to the back so she could tag along. In this fashion we went up the Champs Elysees.
Crowds roared in the theatre of my sensitive imagination. I could see the Arc de Triomphe up ahead and with it glorious victory. I shot out into the approach only to be brought round from my fantasy by harsh reality. Cycling The roundabout encircling the Arc was little safer than cycling headlong into a volcano. But it was too late. Brenda was screaming like a cat tied to a rail track. I felt sick. A blur of metal and near misses! Then a sound like thunder and silence.
The collision had thrown us clear of the road. Straight through the arch and in through the window of an ice cream van. We had survived. The ice cream broke our fall.
Needless to say we made our excuses and limped away.
Brenda and I rested a while in a shady square on the Ils de la cite just yards from the Palace of Justice. Unaware of the storm clouds gathering against us. We had just been kicked out of the Cathedral of Notre Dame for unauthorized ringing of the bells. I had been wearing a hideous mask and had a pillow stuffed in my jacket to give the illusion of a hunched back. Brenda had plastered her prune like face with excessive make up in the manner of a gypsy girl. Now she cleansed her features with baby wipes while humming a Cornish ditty and I thumbed my pocket book of Keats. The sky bruised and I kne instinctively it was time for supper.
We located the last restaurant in Paris that still served Frog's legs courtesy of the Immersive travel list of doom.
The waiter came over and presented me with a wine list. I ordered in a moment being not a fan of pontificating. He went away sniggering and said casually to the maitre D that he would be surprised if I could tell a good wine from a crate of three week old sun dried horse vomit. My French is not so bad after all!
On his return I took the bottle and read every word on the label three times. I fixed my eye on the lad and asked if the bottle needed to be decanted. He said no. I nodded for him to uncork the bottle which he did. I grabbed the cork from him and squeezed it furiously. He looked shocked. I sniffed it for signs of foul wine, then satisfied that the bottle was in good condition I turned my attention to the glass. I held it aloft by the stem and inspected it for nearly ten minutes, paying attention to the refraction of the light. Then the nose! I toyed with my olfactory gland in the glass until satisfied. Finally I sipped and gargled then spat the wine into the waiters hand.
I finally agreed to take the bottle.
"Monsieur?" The boy continued
"What?" I replied, and casually took a swig of the Vin Rouge.
"That's the house wine you pompous fool. It is worthless piss. Would your wife like to order now?"
I spat wine across the room and began choking. Brenda, who had fallen asleep, woke up and cursed in some sort of Celtic language. The waiter relished the opportunity to thump me on the back until I begged him to stop.
Well dear Soundguides. How you may be wondering did such an innocent evening end I a torrid prison like this one? Well the demon drink took its toll. After the meal we took a carriage to the infamous Moulin Rouge. We payed extraordinary sums to see harlots dance with their breasts on show for all to see and drink several bottles of champagne. Brenda stormed the stage and began to strip. We were forced to leave.
Once in the street we ran into a group of revelers. What happened next is unclear. At some point in the day it seems I had obtained fire crackers for reasons I could no longer remember. The people who we were with were drinking illegally imported absinthe. I had broken in to the catacombs museum to take shelter from the rain with Brenda. An explosion had occurred. We were apprehended by Gendarmes in a pile of descrated bones benath the streets of Paris surrounded by empty bottles of Absinthe. Brenda was released on bail. I am being held for further questioning. I fear she has betrayed me!
Send help soon dear friends. This is all your fault.
C'est la Vie!