Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

The hen party was seated at an outside restaurant table under the plane trees when I arrived. They sat with straight backs conversing normally, looked cool and lovely, and everything appeared seemly. Yet it was now ten o'clock on their first night on tour. They seemed unusually glad to see their chauffeur; apart from this, there was nothing to suggest that they were even slightly drunk. Appearances might have been deceptive, however, for they were all of them privately and expensively educated young women.

I was bidden to be seated and offered a glass of wine, which I accepted. I sat and sipped and listened to their chatter. That something or somebody was 'cute' or 'insane' appeared to be the highest possible accolade. Men and maleness were beyond a joke. We were not only irrelevant, we were on the way out. Another staple topic was menstruation. Here I was able to contribute the interesting snippet of information that French slang for beginning a period, roughly translated, is, 'the redcoats are disembarking' -- 'redcoats' being British regiments, I explained, rather than Butlins entertainers.

When the wine pitchers ran dry, they called for the bill and I was invited to join them on a tour of inspection of the village in the warm night air. A dazzling full moon was lodged like a football in the upper branches of a plane tree. After 20 minutes of climbing up and down ancient stone staircases and peering into pitch-black alleyways, they said they were all absolutely gagging for another drink. Miraculously for past ten o'clock, one of the three village bars was still open and I was again invited to join them at another outside table, under other plane trees, to drink Desperados, a tequila-flavoured triumph of marketing drunk straight from a long, phallic-shaped bottle. The first taste is pretty vile but it grows on one surprisingly quickly and I remarked on it.

Then one of them produced a pack of playing cards and we tried to play a game called Scabby Queen -- in spite of its offensively sexist name, let it be understood. But the elementary rules were too complicated for most of them, and drew complaints, so instead of that we played a cheating game called Bullshit, which is so elementary a young chimpanzee could play it. To make myself useful, I shuffled and dealt. My maladroit shuffling of the pack drew admiring comments. …

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