Provence Diary: The life-saving course that made my head swim
So there I was in the village watching a Euro 2016 warm-up game. The bar had put a TV outside on the street. A woman squeezed through the crowd to stand next to me. She was wearing an off-white party frock, short and frilly around the knees, revealing around the bust. Her hair was cut in a neat bob, her hair light brown, and her eyes almond brown. She sipped on beer from a bottle and watched the game.
Because I’d had a few beers, and have been encouraged by my French teacher to interact with the locals, I struck up a conversation.
“Nice evening,” I said.
And in that moment I was lost. It was in my eyes, and in the slight quaver in my voice. She knew that I fancied her, and she instinctively looked away. Once or twice again during the evening she caught me looking at her and demurely lowered her eyes. Eventually, she drifted away into the crowd.
And that would have been that, had it not been for the life-saving course, which I had to pass to help the teachers supervise the kids’ swimming lessons. A couple of days after the incident in the bar, I drove to the municipal pool of the neighbouring village. I’d come forewarned.
Public swimming pools in France do not allow men to wear swimming trunk shorts. The theory being that men, being the lazy beast that we are, will in the summer sun, eat, sleep, drink, and swim in the same pair of shorts and that public pools can do without the detritus from the last three meals floating around in the deep end.
Speedo swimming trunks were as a result compulsory. I slipped mine on and pulled the drawstring tight. Now, at the best of times I am not a pretty sight. But nearly naked, with white skin, freckles and eruptions of red hair protruding from every orifice, I’m not far off a monster from a children’s picture book.
And there I stood by the side of the pool, waiting. There was one other father from school. He said a friendly hello and another mother smiled politely at me. The course instructor arrived. I guessed he was around 60 years old, but judging by his banana-hammock briefs and reflector shades, he still thought of himself as a bit of a heart-throb. Hasselhoff’s spirit was alive and well in the South of France.
Dave, as I immediately named him, gave an introduction to the course: “200 metre swimming test, rescue a drowning person and then administer mouth to mouth. Just waiting for the last person until we start, ah, here she is …”
Brown hair, almond eyes, all too skimpy bikini that made me swallow with fear and avert my eyes: it was that girl from the bar.
“Marie Lou, do you know Dan?” the other two parents made the introduction, her daughter has just started at school.
Marie Lou inclined her head to signal that our paths had crossed. The 200-metre swim passed without incident, in that I made it to the end of the pool, albeit in an extra-ordinarily slow time. Once my heaving breaths stopped, it was time for life-saving. Marie Lou would pretend to drown. It was my task to dive in, swim to the other end of the pool, clasp Marie Lou around the neck and then swim on my back with her on my chest to the safety of the shallow end. I was then to pull her from the water, perform mouth to mouth and pump her chest to get the water from her lungs.
The following five minutes were as bad as I had imagined. While rescuing Marie Lou, my hand slipped from a position of safety at the base of her neck, to her breast, my other hand instinctively came around to help, so that I was swimming on my back with one hand clasped upon each breast. I could feel the goose bumps on the curve of her skin. One stroke, two strokes, and still my hands remained frozen in place. It had been embarrassingly long. To remove them would have signalled that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Best to brazen it out I thought. Pretend this was my natural stroke.
When we got to the side, I waited for the blow to the face, that insouciant back of the hand slap that Gallic women have patented on celluloid. Instead without a glance, she lay down and allowed me to breathe life into her supposed failing lungs. Our lips met somewhat mechanically. I trembled as I blew the air into her lungs. I knew what was coming next. Ten repeated pumps of her breast.
As I flexed my hands, and looked down at the pliant French beauty beneath me, I couldn’t believe how much I desperately, desperately, wanted to be somewhere else. At which point Mars entered Venus. This is not a metaphor but a reference to the stars and the changing of my luck.
The village clock struck midday.
“Well, I think we’ve all got the idea,” said coach Dave. “You all pass with distinction.”
I’m not sure whether he was jealous or hungry or both. I do know I could not have been more relieved.