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 Was it What You Wanted?


by Jim Gillan

 

 
 

 

Blast!  It’s that time of year again. BLOODY lists. Hate ‘em, especially when they have anything to do with things I might enjoy. There’s far too much of a lowest common denominator/bonding/social norm dimension to all that guff. And I hate Christmas. But the Spoke spake and I don’t want to disappoint him, which means that by extension I have to invite the rest of you to digest my offal offerings. Though the wise and perceptive might pass swiftly on. But for those who find a certain frisson*, one manifestly not attributable to the frimas**, in desperate meanderings, the following is (a) ENTIRELY true and (b) has within it many of the things that I hold dear (ie my ‘best of), though not in any order. And it revolves around underwear, on which (according to the Spoke) I am Freewheelin’s lead authority. 

So then, to set the scene, it’s Nice airport, one September morning, about five, maybe seven ago, depending on which time frame you are using and which dimension you wish to view things from. Actually, in some circumstances I can think of, this is all yet to happen, something that is spookily true of Dylan singing Peter Case’s rather wonderful ‘Entella Hotel’. Anyway, I, and my keepers (somewhat euphemistically, very thoughtfully, but entirely inaccurately described by some as my friends), were on our way back from a week-long climbing trip to the crags at Mouries, Orgon and Aureille. Belters all. 

Now then, whilst it is true that all airports - and by extension, the shops in them - tend to look the same, there are some often subtle differences. So, whilst Manchester, Gatwick, Heathrow and so on all have Knickerbox and the Sock Shop selling underwear, there is a shop in Nice airport that sells not underwear, but lingerie. The window display featured the usual mix of impossibly beautiful models in glossy photos, as well as tasteful arrangements of the garments (if such glorious creations can be given such a prosaic label) themselves. Not cheap – 2,590 francs (about £260 for those of you who have forgotten old currency conversions) for an admittedly very nice lace and satin cream basque with six, rather than the usual four, suspenders. Trés chic, n’est ce pas?  Deep breath from my buddy Keith, gentle moan from someone. Could have been me, but might have been a familiar.  Anyway, in we went. 

The assistant, who I suspect considered herself completely versed in the wayward behaviour of the sub-species loosely described as ‘male’, cocked an elegant eyebrow and uncoiled sinuously from her chair. Long legs, sheathed (as it soon became evident when she deliberately turned to check her impeccable appearance in a full-length mirror) by seamed stockings, uncrossed with a sensuous grace that would have felled most. But having lived in Yorkshire long enough to become accustomed to Wakefield lasses wearing very little (though when it snows, the softies amongst ‘em have allegedly been seen in thongs), Mam’selle left us admiring, but unshaken. 

If this display of strength and steely purpose discomfited her, it didn’t show beyond a sudden flash in her luminous, but somehow fathomless eyes. Her perfect lips parted slightly and her tongue flicked briefly against her upper lip. Long, perfectly coiffured hair, the colour of rare gold was tossed imperiously back as she slowly brushed the fingers of her left hand back and forth along the lapel of her Versace tailored jacket. Deep red nail varnish, (impeccably applied of course), exactly matched the shade of her lipstick.  An elusive hint of Femme was carried before her as she took one step, then two, towards us. How is it possible in heels so high to move with such grace? How can the simple act of walking be full of such promise? How can a skirt so closely cut sway so invitingly?  Her eyes smoldered, the air crackled.  In a voice that Bardot would have died for she breathed “bonjour Messieurs…vous désirez?” In the silence, her words hung like ice crystals on the trees, yet the air was as sultry as that of a Caribbean evening. 

“How do, lass!” we chummily replied, Keith even going so far as to thrust out his hand (I think) to shake. She didn’t even blink. “Ma fois! You look so…so…cosmopolitan, so urbane… Forgive me! I did not realise you are English!  Is it that you like our lingerie, that you ’ave someone trés special, trés beautiful, in mind? 

Now, call me a pushover (I am, but call me it anyway - I like the sound of it), but I was charmed. Though not enough to fail to recognise the old phonus balonus. She didn’t want us; she wanted our credit cards! Mistaking our silence for awe, she dropped her voice an impossible octave and again said  “you like our lingerie?” Well, three can play at that game “Yes, very much, except in England we pronounce it ‘lingery, on account of it's nice to linger round the lingerie”. Her eyes glazed in a momentary confusion, but seasoned professional that she was, she recovered and said with a smile and accent that hinted at as yet unimagined pleasures, “I'm sorry. I don't understand so good your English. Please forgive me for being such a silly little girl…’Ow you say..? Ah oui! I mean would you like to 'ave a look at our lingerie”? 

“Yes, we would very much like to look. But in England we say ‘lurk’. It sounds much the same as look, but ‘lurk’ conveys so much more”. "Luuurrrkk? You wish to lurk at the lingerie?” “Exactly! - But remember! It's lingery! Because it is ALWAYS important to properly fingery the lingery! It's why we wish to lurk in the first place". (By way of an aside, and least anyone think that this isn’t serious, lingerie must always be treated with respect. Lingerie has little or nothing in common with underwear, despite some superficial similarities. Lingerie has nuances and subtleties that can only be revealed by finesse. Granted, there are times when it has to stand a good tugging, but the discerning amongst you don’t need instructions. Indeed you already recognise the massive difference between instruction and invitation, even though the words used may seem like the former.

At this point, a button on her jacket popped, emotion having proved too much for the tailoring. Had they been present. Mills & Boon novelists would have had all the bosom heaving they could handle. As it was, it was left to Keith and I to help her back to her seat and minister to her needs. Keith gave her his last wine gum, which is indicative of his generous spirit. Nicole (for that turned out to be her name) later wrote to me to say that she had to study the security camera tapes for weeks before she understood completely what had been going on. She said that first she was angry, thinking we had been making fun of her. Then she was embarrassed, realising that she had been guilty of many assumptions, even prejudices. But finally she said she was happy when she realised what we had done.  Which was show her that all the things that she had made herself a part of, were of no real value. Alors! She quit the job, gave up her boyfriend and his enormous chateau, tore up her address book, stopped going to therapy and took up climbing. “But I kept all the lingerie,” she said, “as I realise that what can seemingly be indulgent and frivolous is really very necessary.” 

Well, I suppose I should say that I hope this meets with your approval. In truth I don’t care whether it does or not, but as it’s (allegedly) the season of goodwill, I’ll stretch a point. 

A biéntot! Jacques

* shiver
** wintry weather

 

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