But I didn’t get the chance to impress Fi that night. We hit what the Captain glibly referred to as ‘choppy water’ about an hour out of port. I’d hate to ever be in a rough sea with him. The boat began to bounce and twist about, and there were those horrid, shuddering crashes as it fell into troughs between huge waves and ominous creaks as it climbed the next crest. I’d never been a good sailor and after another twenty minutes I was feeling rougher than the water around us.

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“OK. Everybody got everything?”

We were outside the lodge with the two vans. Andy had his work van, a brand new Ford Transit Van, a nice piece of machinery. I was supplying the fishery van. This was a ten-year-old Nissan Primastar, and next to Andy’s wheels, it look shabby and dated. But, despite its rattles and creaks, it was a great van and hadn’t let me down once over more than 100,000 miles. 

I’d spent the afternoon packing the Nissan with mine and Fi’s camping gear, and enough food and beer to keep even six thirsty anglers going for a day or so, until we could hit a supermarket in France. Norm had brought Fi in his small van to the fishery and we’d shoved their bags in the Nissan too. I carefully put my guitar on top of the pile and I was ready. Andy had brought Derek and Greg, the other team member, with all their stuff prepacked.

“We’re ready, chief,” Norm told me.

There was time for a last coffee and cigarette and for me to give unnecessary, naggy advice to Graham before we hit the road. I gave up giving up and joined the smokers. Well, I was on holiday.

“Last chance to pee till the ferry,” I warned my team.

“Fi?” asked Andy.

“Why do blokes always think girls need to pee seventy times a day?” frowned Fi. “But, um, actually, I will just nip to the loo.”

In the end we all trooped out of the lodge and then climbed into the vans. Derek and Norm were travelling with Andy for the trip, so Fi and Greg were with me. Greg plonked himself in the middle, which I wasn’t that pleased about. I’d have much rather had Fi there.

“My CD first!” bagsied Fi.

She hadn’t forgotten my music CD rule.

“It’s not like Andy said, all soppy stuff is it?” grumbled Greg.

“I shall neither confirm nor deny that rumour,” grinned Fi. “Listen.”

The first track opened with a nice and gentle introduction. Greg groaned, but I smiled. I recognised it and caught Fi’s eye. She winked at me. I turned the volume right up so that, a few seconds later, Greg jumped in alarm when 'Bullet for my Valentine' screamed the opening lyrics of ‘Tears Don’t Fall’. The van’s windows rattled.

Greg swore in shock and Fi and I laughed.

“Is that soppy enough for you?” enquired Fi sweetly.

Greg muttered something grumpily in reply.

There was all sorts of music on Fi’s CD – epic rock, a few indie tracks, plenty of chart pop, one admittedly soppy one, some more heavy metal, then a French folk song.

“What was that last one?” I asked after it had finished.

“Marie-Jeanne-Gabrielle,” Fi told me, “by Louis Capart. It’s lovely isn’t it? »

“Yes. I must learn that one. Very catchy.”

Her CD finished with some alternative rock tracks by a group I hadn’t heard before. They sang in English but there was a foreign sound to them.

“Who are they? I like them,” I nodded.

“Group called Argyle from Poitiers. Last time I was in France there was a Battle of the Bands thing going on in the town where I was staying, so I went along. This lot blew me away. Awesome, aren’t they?”

“I hope they won,” I said.

“They did but it wasn’t a walkover. The other groups were really good. It’s just Argyle were phenomenal.”

“A group to watch out for,” I agreed.

“What’s with all the Frog music anyway?” asked Greg, unsubtly.

“To get us in the mood,” announced Fi. “So, what is the official opinion of my CD?” She looked at me archly.

 “Very interesting. Quite an eclectic mix altogether,” I concluded.

Greg opened his mouth. “No,” I quickly went on, knowing what he was going to say. “Not electric. Eclectic. Composed of elements drawn from various sources or styles.”

“Whatever,” he shrugged. “Some of it was all right.”

“And what does it say about me?” she wanted to know.

“The heavy music element says that you’re someone who’s calm and happy with yourself. The pop means you’re creative and have high self-esteem,” I told her.

“He makes all that up,” dismissed Greg.

“No, it’s from an academic study that was done a few years ago,” I informed him. “There’s a lot in it.”

“Rubbish. Anyway, mine now,” said Greg, sliding his CD into the player.

Greg’s choice was much narrower than Fi’s. He was an R&B/Hiphop guy, with a preference for Eminem and Drake. I wasn’t too sorry when it finished.

“And what are R&B music lovers then?” asked Fi.

“Boring!” I grinned.

“Misunderstood,” Greg corrected me.

“Yours now,” said Fi, to me.

“I’ll save it,” I told her. “We’re nearly at the port so I need to start concentrating because I have been known to drive the wrong way down a one-way road somewhere near here!”

“I can vouch for that,” nodded Greg with a grin. “Some old biddy had to swerve onto the pavement to avoid him.”

“Not my proudest moment,” I acknowledged.

Nothing went wrong this time around, luckily, and we were soon on board the ferry. And of course everyone headed straight for the bar.

“This is why we don’t go by the tunnel, like Rob always does,” I told Fi. “I’d be lynched if I tried to get them to cross to France without a drink!”

“What song will be you doing tonight?” Fi asked me as we sat down at a table with our drinks. There was a notice up announcing a karaoke contest later.

“Depends,” I shrugged. “Sometimes they have themes, like 60s or 80s or whatever. And if possible, I like to see how the session goes to start with before I sign up for something. So if everyone’s doing ballads, then you’ve got a better chance with something rocky, or if everyone’s doing current hits, then drag up an oldie.”

“You’ve studied this haven’t you!” laughed Fi.

“I’m a pro!” I confessed. “Paul and I had it down to a fine art. We must have won a couple of thousand quid in prizes at karaoke nights,” I told her. “Plus we won a microwave for mum, and a pretty fair hi-fi system for the house. We’d drive off most weekends to nearby towns to take part in competitions. It was brilliant fun.”

“How come you always did so well?” asked Fi.

“Well, we can sing OK,” I confessed, “but mainly we’re both terrific show-offs. You have to really ham it up in karaoke – actually, in any singing. It’s 90% acting and 10% talent usually. That’s why actors and actresses make the transition to pop stardom so easily when most of them haven’t got any real talent at all. It’s a show! Me and Paul had some really great routines. We’ll have to demonstrate to you sometime.”

“So you’re going to ham it up tonight then?”

“Yes, I hope you don’t embarrass easily,” I laughed.

“Only when my boobs fall out during judo,” Fi reminded me, pulling a face. “I can cope with you being crazy, no problem.”

But I didn’t get the chance to impress Fi that night. We hit what the Captain glibly referred to as ‘choppy water’ about an hour out of port. I’d hate to ever be in a rough sea with him. The boat began to bounce and twist about, and there were those horrid, shuddering crashes as it fell into troughs between huge waves and ominous creaks as it climbed the next crest. I’d never been a good sailor and after another twenty minutes I was feeling rougher than the water around us.

“I’ve got to bail, sorry,” I apologised, getting up from our table and lurching towards the exit. I hurried, as far as it was possible, to the deck for some fresh air and a glimpse of the horizon to quell my seasickness. I regretted the last whisky and ginger. I did that way too often. It would be probably be engraved on my tombstone.

I leant against the rail at the stern of the ship and watched the white wake being thrown around by the clamouring waves behind us. Even at the back of the ship, I was soon drenched with spray.

Someone joined me.

“I thought maybe coffee would help?” It was Fi.

“Hey!” I grimaced gratefully. “Thanks.” I took a sip. It was what I needed.

“Not so good on a boat, huh?”

“No. Dreadful,” I admitted. “What about you?”

“I’m fine, but I always prefer it on deck. It gets so stuffy down below. And the karaoke is really, really awful,” she groaned. “I don’t think anyone’s actually sung in tune yet. Much nicer out here with the wind and seagulls. They’ve flown a long way out, haven’t they?”

“I guess,” I shrugged, looking at them. They all looked raggy and cross. They reminded me of Pincushion.

Fi shivered. “Nippy though.”

“Go back down,” I ordered. “Don’t get cold.”

“No thanks,” she smiled. “I’ll survive.”

“Snuggle up then!” I didn’t think she would, but I optimistically lifted my right arm up anyway. Amazingly Fi ducked under it and closed up against me. Oh boy. Thank God I’d felt seasick. I grinned happily at the crashing waves. We talked about this and that for a quarter of an hour or so, and then Norm appeared. He reckoned he couldn’t take the karaoke any more either, but it was more a case that he wanted to see what me and Fi were up to, in my opinion.

“Christ, it’s freezing up here,” he moaned.

“You can snuggle up on this side,” I offered brightly, holding out my left arm.

“Fuck off, mate,” he laughed. “I’ll snuggle up with Fi though,” and he moved in on her right.

I’d have rather he hadn’t been there, but well, he was helping to keep the elements off Fi. And the longer she stayed tolerably warm and dry, the longer we could stay here, together. Norm was slightly drunk and in very good form. He regaled us with work-related stories, threw in a lot of very blue jokes and we had a great half hour.

By then, all three of us were shivering so I reluctantly unglued myself from Fi and headed back down, in my case for a temporary warm up at least. It didn’t seem quite so bad below now. I’d booked some reclining seats for everyone, but generally half of them never got used. The lads just sat around somewhere talking after the bar closed. I chose a seat next to the window. It was too dark to see the horizon but I hoped it might still help. Fi and Norm headed back to the bar. I frowned as I watched them go but I couldn’t face going back there myself. I was sure I’d throw up if I did. In fact, I knew I would. I plugged my iPod into my ears and played some soothing music, sort of. Out of Ashes by Dead by Sunrise, featuring the mellower side of Chester Bennington. Good songs. I eventually drifted off, only occasionally startled awake by a particularly hard jolt or noisy crash. One time I saw Fi snoozing a couple of seats away, and heard Norm snoring behind me. Later Andy and Derek appeared and played cards for a while, but I nodded off again while I was watching them. 

I only got a few hours’ sleep – it wasn’t a long crossing – but it was enough. I felt much better in the cold, pink dawn, and the sea had calmed down massively so I was a match for breakfast in the cafeteria. Not for a fry-up, like most of the others, but certainly for some croissants and jam. Fi went French as well. I copied her as she dunked her croissants into her coffee. I didn’t quite have her finesse and a lump of soggy croissant plopped off into my plastic cup, to the lads’ amusement. I couldn’t fish it out with the thin plastic stirrer I had, so it went down with the last mouthful of coffee. I wasn’t a Frenchman.

We rejoined our vehicles as the ferry drew into port. This time Fi got the middle spot. Much nicer. I was about to put my CD in, but Fi asked if we could have the radio on for a little while first.

“French radio’s crap,” declared Greg. “Rubbish Frog stuff.”

“Greg, do you like anything about France?” I asked.

“Just the carp fishing,” he confirmed.

Fi had tuned into an upbeat music station. “Sounds OK to me,” I shrugged.

“It’s NRJ, usually pretty fair,” she nodded. “Unless you’d rather have travel reports?”

“They’re no good to me. I can’t understand them. The presenters speak way too fast! We’ll find out soon enough if there are any traffic jams.”

“Why do you want French radio anyway?” grumbled xenophobic Greg.

“Because we’re in France,” explained Fi. “Part of the culture. Just for ten minutes or so, then we’ll suss Marcus out from his music.”

“I’ve already sussed him,” began Greg with a knowing smirk. “He’s …

“Do you want to walk to Julian’s?” I suggested curtly. I wasn’t sure what he was about to say, but I preferred that he didn’t. He got the message and shut up.

“Can you understand that?” Greg asked Fi, a few minutes later. He’d been watching her, and I’d snuck the odd glance too, and she seemed to be engrossed.

“Taking in the Frenchness,” she replied vaguely.

The walkie-talkie Greg was holding crackled into life. That was how we kept our two vans in touch on the journey.

“Yo.” It was Norm’s voice.

“Yo,” echoed Greg.

“Everything OK?”

“Yup.”

“Us too. Over and out.”

I rolled my eyes. They’d probably have flattened the batteries with such banalities long before we got to the lake. The walkie-talkies were really only meant for emergencies. We all knew the route and, with monotonous predictability, we always stopped at the same service stations on the way down.

The music on NRJ was good, so when Fi offered to turn it off and put my CD on, I shook my head. “Nah, we can have it later. I’m enjoying this.”

“Good.” Fi looked pleased.

Greg sighed and hooked up his MP3. Philistine. But at least that left me and Fi to talk. Fi pointed out typically French things, like the style of the churches, the fields full of artichokes, and the hilltop villages perched in the distance. I told her about some of the highlights of previous trips – Norm forgetting to put the bung in the rowing boat at the lake and sinking; Andy getting badly sunburnt because he refused point blank to use the only suncream we had for the pathetic reason that it was in a pink tube and, therefore, girlie; Derek getting left behind at a service station because both Andy and I thought he was in the other van; Martin sleeping through having his bivvie disassembled around him – there were plenty of tales to tell.

“This is going to be an eventful week, judging from past performances!” she chuckled.

“I don’t think we’ve had a boring one yet,” I confirmed. 

The walkie-talkie beeped.

“Not far from the services now,” Andy told us.

“Copy that,” nodded Greg, being more professional this time round.

“And Rob’s just texted Derek and we reckon they’re only about twenty minutes behind us.”

“Cool.”

“Over and out.”

Rob’s gang came through the tunnel and drove faster than us, so we usually met up en route.

I pulled into the services gratefully. I needed a break. The first few hours of driving on the wrong side of the road were always stressful, until I settled into it. And I was ready for coffee and something filling to eat. Croissants didn’t keep me going long.

We parked next to each other, climbed out and stretched. The smokers, which was now all of us apart from Fi, lit up. She took herself off to get out of our fumes and flopped onto a picnic bench nearby.

We finished our cigarettes and then all ambled together into the services. Derek’s phone beeped just as we got inside.

“OK team!” announced Derek, reading the text message he’d just received. “Rob and the others will be here in about ten minutes so we’d better get kitted up.”

Fi looked at him puzzled. “What d’you mean?” she asked.

“We’ve got a uniform organised, you see, me and Andy,” Derek smiled proudly. “Marcus asked us to do it.” I nodded confirmation. “Those smart-aleck gits had one last year, so we thought we’d outdo them this time. Our slick look will distract them.” He winked at Fi when he said that. “So lady and gentlemen, here we are.”

With a flourish he pulled six carrier bags out of his rucksack. Each one had a name marked on – his own, Andy, Norman, Greg, Fi’s and mine. He handed them out.

“Hey, my bag’s much smaller than everyone else’s,” Fi observed. “And it’s taped shut,” she went on, trying to peer into it.

I shot Derek a frown. What had he and Andy got up to? But Derek wouldn’t meet my eye.

“Yeah, well, you’re much smaller than us guys, aren’t you?” explained Derek to Fi.

“I guess,” she shrugged. But she didn’t look convinced. And I wasn’t either. Fi was only a couple of centimetres shorter than Norm.

“So come on lads, off to the loos and get changed,” ordered Andy.

There seemed to be a lot of smirking going on as we headed our way.

“What are you up to?” I cornered Andy as we got into the gents.

“Nothing,” he said innocently.

“I hope not,” I warned. “Fi’s good natured and fun, but you shouldn’t take advantage.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he assured me.

Yeah right.

Andy and Derek had done a good job. Our uniforms were deep green tee-shirts with ‘A and M Fishery’ and a pretty cool trout graphic printed on in beige, a pair of muddy-brown shorts and camouflage crocks. OK, it had worked out about twenty-five quid per person, but it was a business expense and Adam hadn’t objected. Mainly because I hadn’t told him. It went under ‘misc’ in the accounts.

“Classy,” approved Greg as we gathered again in the corridor, waiting for Fi.

We waited for a good five minutes.

“Come on, girl,” muttered Derek anxiously.

“What’s the rush?” shrugged Norm. “Women take ages to get ready. Chill out.”

“Yeah, but Rob and co will be here any second. I wanted us all to be sorted before they came,” grumbled Derek.

“She’s gonna look so good!” sniggered Andy.

I groaned. What kind of childish prank had they pulled?

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