The other lads only found out about the camp shower over lunch, when Fi happened to remark that the water had still been on the chilly side when she’d last checked it, so she was going to give it another hour. All eyes were on her. “Do you want someone to hold your soap?” offered Nat. “So you don’t have to keep bending down to pick it up.” Eleven minds’ eyes saw a nude Fi bending down. That was something worth seeing. “Come to think of it, it would be better if I held your towel rather than your soap,” Nat corrected himself hastily.
I found out a few seconds later. The door to the ladies burst open and out sashayed Fi, looking like, well, a vamp. Her version of our tee-shirts was a very low-cut crop top. There was a huge A over one breast and a matching F over the other. A tiny trout was swimming happily into her cleavage. The top was so short it only just came down below those glorious breasts. Her beautiful, slim, freckly midriff was there for all to see. And so was her pierced belly button. A shiny collection of beads hung down from it. Up to now I’d always thought that was a pretty naff fashion statement, but on Fi it looked amazingly sexy. Her muddy-brown shorts started just above hips and finished not that far below them. She didn’t have crocks but high-heeled sandals. Her nails and lips were bright red, her eyelashes were long and black and her hair was back-combed or something so that it puffed around her face.
Andy, Derek, Greg and Norm, and I’m sure a few passers-by, wolf-whistled. I preferred to take it all in silently.
Fi stopped in front of Andy and Derek, hands on hips.
“You evidently wanted tart – so you’ve got tart! Good job I happened to have Slut Red lipstick and nail varnish, and Special Floozy mascara in my handbag, isn’t it?”
Derek and Andy did a high five.
“That’s our Fi! We knew you’d play along!” grinned Andy. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and pulled a classy looking bag out from behind his back. He gave it to her.
“More miniscule uniform?” she interrogated him with a hard stare.
“Nope. Pressie. To say ‘thank you’ for being such a sport,” he announced. “Dez and I clubbed together to get it for you.” No mention of the fact they’d touched me for a twenty too.
She looked in and gasped. Christ, it wasn’t a vibrator or something, was it? The guys didn’t know where to stop sometimes. But Fi pulled out a tiny bottle of that hideously expensive but sensational perfume she’d tried on the ferry.
“Omigod! Thank you guys!” she cried. “But … I shall never forgive you. Remember that.”
“What’s going on here then?” came a voice.
We all turned and saw six guys in white short-sleeve cotton shirts wearing ridiculously wide ties with fish on. It was Rob and the rivals.
“Hi mate!” I said to Rob, shaking his hand. I hadn’t seen him since last summer’s competition. Normally we got together a few times over the year but I’d been too busy. He was a good friend and we got on well. I recognised most of his team and there was hand shaking and back slapping all round. Then all eyes turned on Fi.
“And this is our secret weapon,” I announced. “Meet Fi.”
“Bloody hell!” grinned Rob. He kissed her on both cheeks. “How are we supposed to focus on our fishing with Fi here?”
“That’s the general idea,” Andy told him smugly.
“Forget the fishing altogether!” cried one of Rob’s group. He was a tall, young guy with really short, blond hair and a diamond stud in one ear. “Here Rich. Have a nice time fishing.” He tossed his van keys to one of the others. “Come on Fi, you’re coming with me!” And he swept Fi off her feet and started to carry her away down the hallway.
“Oi, bring our woman back!” ordered Derek. “Get your own.”
Fi’s abductor laughed and swung round. “Forgive me, Fi,” he begged, putting her down. “I’m Liam.” And he kissed her on both cheeks too.
“You’re forgiven,” she smiled. She took everything in good will. She was a great girl. Trouble was, I wasn’t the only one who thought that. All the single lads amongst us were eying her up. And they were all nearer Fi’s age than me by a good few years. I was the granddad of the group.
We stood around chatting for a while.
“How’s the awful Adam?” Rob asked me.
“God, don’t get me started,” I groaned. “He’s been a nightmare lately.” But I didn’t get any further. A couple of young fellas were walking by. They looked at Fi. One of them made a remark, and Fi went for him – in French.
“Ferme ta guele !” were the only words I could make out. Then she launched into a long and loud, furious tirade. She was waving her hands around in true Gallic fashion. The bloke made a ‘sorry’ gesture, muttered something, and slunk off. I only realised once he’d gone that I should have rammed him up against the wall or something. He’d obviously been very rude to Fi. But I’d been too astonished to move.
So had everyone else. Eleven open-mouthed guys stared at her.
“You spoke French!” Norm managed at last. “Well, shouted French!”
“Sorry,” shrugged Fi. “He had a foul mouth.”
“But how come you know so much French?” added Rob.
“I’m half French,” replied Fi simply.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” I demanded.
“It never really cropped up,” she explained. “I was planning to surprise you all during this trip.”
“You did that all right,” I laughed.
“So, tell us everything,” urged Andy.
“My full name is Amélie Mélissa Fiona Field-Lebrun,” Fi told us.
“Huh, and you once said I had too many names!” I couldn’t help reminding her.
“I’m a hypocrite,” she admitted happily. ““My mum was French and she brought me up bilingual. She used my French names, but Dad never liked them so he only ever called me Fiona. And since Mum died when I was ten, I got used to being called Fiona, so I dropped the other names and I’m just Fi now. And in France I use Lebrun as a surname, and Field in England.”
“Sounds a bit criminal, having different identities,” chuckled Rob.
“Well, you’re Fi to me,” announced Derek firmly.
“And what did that guy say anyway?” Liam wanted to know.
Fi snorted. “He was saying to his friend that he wondered which out of you guys the English slut – i.e. me – was going to sleep with first.”
I guess a couple of us were wondering, wishfully, the same thing.
“And what did you say? You went nuts!” grinned Derek.
“I told him to shut up. I said what kind of idiot was he when it was obvious that I was a French slut and so I was going to sleep with you all at once! Now come on. Let’s get some coffee.”
We headed into the cheaper cafeteria section of the services, smirking at what Fi had told us, and pulled some tables together. The idea of an elevensome with Fi … well. I needed a good strong coffee.
Fi’s Frenchness had come as a surprises. But it explained so much now – the way she’d always greeted us so naturally with the cheek kissing thing, her suggestion by Tweet for selling pains au chocolat in the fishery café last week, wanting to listen to French radio on the way down, even that faintly exotic ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality about her.
For the first time on any of our trips, thanks to Fi, we got exactly what we ordered refreshmentwise. Usually there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way in our forays into cafés due to our bad French, and someone got a black coffee instead of a white one, or we ended up with too many croque monsieurs and not enough plates of frites.
There was a lot to talk about during the rest of the journey. My CD remained unplayed as Fi told me all about her times in France with her mum and nan. She started giving me a French lesson too. And the walkie-talkie and people’s mobiles were constantly going off as Rob’s group and Andy and the others thought of pointless things and rude jokes to tell us. It was chaotic but it made the time pass quickly. And so, just under another couple of hours’ later, we pulled up at the gates to Julian’s fishery.
I loved this place. It wasn’t the most attractive entrance though – a long farm track with a ludicrous amount of wooden telegraph and electricity poles marching along either side of it. However, once you got halfway down the hill, the track turned sharply and the farm was in front of you, a huge house in honey-coloured stone with a well and courtyard in front. To the left was a large barn. The track carried on past the house down to the huge lake which nestled in a valley bottom. It had woods to either end, with enough trees along the banks for shade but not so many that they restricted swims or casting. There was a wooden chalet at the deep end with basic cooking facilities, but we – well, I – would be using the barbecue most of the time. Very early on in the holiday series I’d admitted I enjoyed cooking, and that was that. I was appointed chef for ever more.
We pulled in outside the farm and Julian and his daughter Carla came hurrying out to see us. We kissed or shook hands, as was most appropriate.
“No Louise to greet us?” Rob asked. We were all fond of Julian’s third wife, whom he’d married five years ago. She had a wicked sense of humour and was a competent carpist. She’d usually come down and fish with us a couple of afternoons.
“She’s, er, at her mother’s,” explained Julian.
“I thought your grandma died a couple of years ago,” observed Rob to Carla, tactlessly.
“Well, at her sister’s then,” frowned Julian.
I glanced over at Carla. She rolled her eyes and drew a finger across her throat. Uh oh. Looked like divorce number three was under way for Julian. What an idiot he was. Lou was a smashing woman and she’d been devoted to Julian, despite his roving eye. He must have finally gone too far. We had a quick, slightly embarrassed, chat, and then we carried on down to the lake.
You can tell a lot about anglers from what they do when they arrive at their destination. If they immediately walk round the water, suss out the features to fish to and get the rod pod up before erecting the bivvie and opening a beer, well, they’re committed fishermen or women. If they prefer to down a few beers before anything else, well, they’re committed drinkers. But if they crack open a beer to take with them while they check the lake out, then they’re well-adjusted anglers shaping up for an excellent fishing holiday. We all fell into the latter category, although whether Andy and Derek could ever really be called well-adjusted was a moot point.
Rob tossed for which side of the lake each group was had. Norm called heads for us, but tails it was. Rob opted for the west bank, which I would have done in his place. That side had wider pegs and slightly fewer trees, and caught the morning sun, which helped get you up in the morning. However, it could get a bit too warm around midday, so the east side wasn’t a total disaster. Anyway, fish move so all we needed to do was encourage them in our direction and we’d have some good fishing this week.
We spread ourselves evenly along the bank, after drawing straws. Derek was at the far end, then Greg, then Fi, then Andy, Norm and me. I was closest to the dam wall and the lodge. I’d been in this spot two years ago and had caught half a dozen fish over forty pounds, as well as plenty of smaller ones. If I got the same haul this year, I’d be happy. And this was a stream-fed lake where the fish grew fast. Some of the bigger ones I’d caught would be nearing fifty pounds by now. It would be awesome to land one or two of those. I was tired, incredibly tired, but excited about the week to come. Wow, could I actually be happy? I hoped so. That didn’t happen nearly often enough these days.
I dished out our free bait and we all baited up with catapaults and spods. Rob’s crew took turns to use a bait boat. It was a nice little machine, very sleek. I watched it meander up and down the lake on their side, depositing partimix and sweetcorn where they wanted it to go. I wasn’t a particular fan of bait boats, though. They did a good job, and probably disturbed the fish less than a bait rocket plummeting into the water, but there was something satisfying about spodding. Using your eye and skill to position the bait just where you wanted it. There was more physical involvement than twiddling a couple of levers on a radio transmitter. True, you could get more bait in at a time, but no, I was never going to be a front-row fan. Another factor was the cost. A bait rocket was a few quid but bait boats were several hundreds. However, they sold well in my shop so I wasn’t going to knock them too much.
Julian and Carla laid on a barbecue for us that night. Carla must have come to stay for a while to keep an eye on her lonely dad. Her mum, Samantha, had been Julian’s first wife and had been the only one to keep him in order before cancer claimed her when she was only thirty. We were reluctant to pull in our rods, having only just got them out, but it was worth it. It was a good spread. Everything we had was homegrown, from the chicken legs and pork chops, to the potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes in the salad, to the slices of roast butternut squash. Even the wine was homemade – last year’s blackberry and elderberry. That packed a punch and the evening got noisier and merrier as it went on. Carla hit us all with very strong coffee afterwards, in the hope we’d be sober enough not to fall in the lake. During the evening, Julian told us that there were a few surprises in the lake for us. He’d put in a few ‘interesting fish’, as he called them. He wouldn’t say any more. Cool. It’s nice to pull out a giant koi or a mandarin catfish or even a good old sturgeon once in a while.
I sat outside my bivvie with my rods until about midnight, simply enjoying being there. Most of the others turned in before me as they’d had a lot less sleep on the ferry. I watched the bats flit over my head, listened to the cicadas, still singing in October, and watched the busy insect life on the lake surface. It was a chilly, autumn night but refreshing and invigorating too. It soon cleared my head. I smoked a last cigarette and pulled my rods in. I opted for another fairly good night’s sleep to get over the journey, so I’d have more energy for the rest of the week. I heard a couple of bite alarms go off during the night. Liam got a 32 pounder, but Greg and Rob lost theirs. So we were just one fish behind after the first night.
I got through Sunday more or less OK. We were all anxious to get our first catches so we all concentrated hard on our fishing. I spodded like mad and built up a good bed of bait, and sure enough, by Sunday evening I was starting to land some excellent fish. Overall, our team was ahead by 41 lbs. Greg had been landing the most regularly, but he was bringing in smaller grass carp, rather than larger commons. However, no-one minds catching a grass carp – they’re always exciting and fight like crazy. Fi had brought in three mirror carp over 30 lbs and she was thrilled. She was proving to be a reliable carpist.
She got a lot of teasing, because in between casts and catches, she pulled her knitting out.
“Grannies knit!” protested Derek over lunch. “Hot chicks don’t.”
Fi rolled her eyes. “So you’re saying Scarlett Johansson and Dakota Fanning aren’t hot? You’re way out of touch, Del Boy. It’s cool to knit these days. All the celebs are doing it.”
“Anyway, I’m a yarnbomber, not a knitter.”
“You what?” Derek looked at her blankly, like the rest of us.
“Yarnbomber. Knitted graffiti street artist, if you’d rather.”
“Knitting’s not art,” grumbled Andy. “Knitting’s jumpers and stuff.”
“Not necessarily.” Fi put him straight. “There are quite a lot of us who brighten up public places with our artwork. You know, a hat on a postbox, some squares of knitting round a tree trunk, a scarf round a statue’s neck. Some yarnbombers have even knitted covers for tanks and buses!”
“They need to get a life,” tutted Josh sadly.
“Have you done any of that stuff at Haverton?” asked Norm.
“No, not yet,” admitted Fi. “I’ve been too crazy with work. But I’ve got the time this week so I shall rustle up something for Coussac.” That was the local town. “It’s bound to have a statue somewhere that needs a makeover. Are we going there soon?” she asked me.
“I was reckoning on tomorrow or Tuesday morning,” I replied. “I need to buy more food, and it’s always interesting to have a poke around there. It’s a nice little place. You’ll like it – it’s got a very picturesque old part.”
“Has it?” asked Derek, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”
“How many years have you been coming here?” I grilled him.
“Eight now, I think.”
“Yeah, and for each of those eight years you only ever go to the same bar each time we go into Coussac!” I reminded him. “That’s why you haven’t done any sightseeing yet.”
“Oh, I see sights in that bar,” smirked Derek. “There are some fit babes in Coussac.”
We sat around for a while longer, then Fi got up.
“I need a shower,” she announced.
“Thank God for that,” grinned Liam. “I wondered what that funny smell was.”
“Ha ha, very mature,” riposted Fi.
She collected her wash things from her bivvie and disappeared up the path to the barn. But she was back ten minutes later, still dry, and carrying a camp shower. All the others had gone back to their swims.
“The proper shower’s bust,” she explained to me. “Julian says he should have it fixed by tomorrow evening. So he’s given me this thing. He says if I hang it up first thing in the morning in a sunny spot, the water should be good and warm by midday.”
“Keep that thing in sight the rest of today,” I warned her.
“Yes. Never forget there are people round here with a mental age that matches their UK shoe size. These same people are into silly practical jokes. I remember a camp shower episode a few years ago that involved worms and other creepy crawlies!”
“Eeyuw!” grimaced Fi. “Thanks for the heads up. I shall go and stash it at the back of my bivvie and stand guard.”
I smiled as I watched her hurry off with it.
Next morning, she vanished early with the black rubber contraption into the woods at the far end of the lake. I was the only one to see her go. No-one else was up yet. I’d had a broken night with three runs so I was tired. Two of those had resulted in fish on the bank, so I was well pleased. But damn, the thought that in a few hours Fi would be naked somewhere in those same woods was definitely arousing. I tried to think about something else – what I’d write in my next column, how things were going at the fishery, had I got enough cash for the shopping today, but that was no good. The mental picture of wet, soapy Fi wouldn’t budge.
The other lads only found out about the camp shower over lunch, when Fi happened to remark that the water had still been on the chilly side when she’d last checked it, so she was going to give it another hour. All eyes were on her.
“Do you want someone to hold your soap?” offered Nat. “So you don’t have to keep bending down to pick it up.”
Eleven minds’ eyes saw a nude Fi bending down. That was something worth seeing.
“Come to think of it, it would be better if I held your towel rather than your soap,” Nat corrected himself hastily.
“In your dreams,” chuckled Fi. “I shower alone.”
“What if a wild boar comes along?” suggested Greg. “You should have a lookout to scare it away.”
“I’ll take my chances with the local wildlife,” replied Fi firmly.
Rob rustled up some cups of tea. I noticed Andy and Derek slip out. Not too hard to guess where they were going. They came back about half an hour later, sniggering like schoolboys. I watched them go round the lake, talking to Rob’s guys and then Greg and Norm. Everyone seemed to be giving them cigarettes.
“What are you up to?” I demanded when they finally got to me.
“We know where Fi’s shower is!” gloated Andy. “For half a dozen fags, we’ll tell you.”
I looked at them hard. “That’s a bit mean isn’t it? I mean, this is Fi, she’s our friend.”
“Are you seriously telling me you don’t want to see her in the buff?” Andy cut to the point.
“No,” I sighed. “I’d love to, obviously, but I don’t think it’s very nice to go leering at her.”
“Suit yourself,” shrugged Derek. “You’re the loser.”
They stalked off. I sighed again. It was hard being a hero.
Just then, Fi came out of her bivvie with her towel. Everyone pretended to be busy with their rods. She snuck a look round, then hurried off to the woods again. A minute later, all the lads started following.
I watched them giggle off. I felt cross. No way were they going to eyeball Fi in the nude. I was determined to be the one out of us who got to see her naked first, but voluntarily on Fi’s part. I was going to get that girl. I pulled out my mobile, hoping Fi had got hers with her. I quickly texted a message:
‘You wl hv audience. Lads r follwng u.’
I was relieved when my phone chirped almost immediately to tell me her reply had come.
‘Tx! Wl relocate fast!’
This I had to see, so I brought in my rods and trotted after the others.
“I changed my mind,” I lied shamelessly to Andy and bunged him a handful of fags.
“Knew you’d see sense,” he nodded.
We followed Andy and Derek through the shady woods. Everyone was trying to be quiet but not really succeeding. There were too many twigs cracking underfoot and too much laughing. I needn’t really have warned Fi. She’d have heard us coming, no problem. We climbed up some banking and then Andy and Derek beckoned to us to approach slowly and bent low. We looked down over the lip of the slope to where the lads were pointing. But neither Fi nor shower were anywhere to be seen. Derek and Andy looked gobsmacked.
“Where is she then?” demanded Mike, one of Rob’s team.
“Yeah!” said Josh, a giant of a man who made me look small and puny.
“The shower was definitely here earlier,” promised Andy.
“Lying bastards!” accused Liam. “I’ll have my fags back please.”
“Yeah, me too,” I added, hoping to appear genuinely disappointed.
“Um, we’ve smoked most of them,” confessed Derek.
“Already? Shit!” Josh wasn’t impressed.
“We’ll buy some tomorrow for you,” consoled Andy.
“Proper ones, like, not weird French camel-poo ones,” grumbled Josh.
“Do you get camels in France then?” enquired Liam.
“Jeez, you twat. Of course you don’t,” scoffed Rob.
“You have our word,” nodded Derek.
The two of them looked very abashed. Not a common sight, that.
Suddenly Josh laughed. “You had us all going!”
“Yeah, I believed you!” confessed Rob.
“We were telling the truth.” Andy didn’t like being accused of trickery.
“Yeah, whatever.” Phil, the quiet one on Rob’s team, shrugged good naturedly.
We traipsed back to the lake.
“Let’s have a beer at the cabin before we get fishing again,” suggested Greg.
Everyone muttered assent so we headed down to the cabin. And there was Fi, with wet hair and wrapped in a towel, unhooking the camp shower from the tree branch just outside it.
“You had your shower? Here?” Andy couldn’t believe it.
“Finished about a minute ago. Yeah, it’s a nice sunny spot here,” she smiled. “And I thought I’d get some help. I realised I’d been a bit stroppy with you all yesterday. It was so kind of you wanting to hold my soap and towel. So I came here, looking for willing volunteers, but you’d all gone. Such a shame.” She sighed. “I really needed someone to scrub my back for me.”
She sashayed along the bank, back to her tent, while ten pairs of eyes watched in abject misery. I watched trying not to laugh. Good old Fi!