LA MAISON DU DÉLICE

PAUL HAWORTH



FOUR


Naptime lasted an hour or so, after which I dragged my weary self outside. Free movement was allowed between towers. We just weren’t allowed to go beyond the grounds. I never saw past the perimeter fence - allegedly there was a charming lakeside city out there.

I passed La Maison du Jouie and checked, out of habit, the noticeboard to see what the night’s movie would be. The laminated sign blue-tacked to the noticeboard said:


Film ce soir

“Daddy’s Home 2”


Jouie had a community hall on the ground floor where they screened movies. Every night, 1900 hours. I usually attended. It offered structure to my day - pommes aligot and a movie were buoys upon the sea of nothingness.

They were yet to put up the new poster: Daddy’s Home 2 had been on the previous night. (I bailed after ten minutes when its themes of troubled father-son relationships began to stir the emotions.)

I continued over to La Maison du Plaisir.

There was a decent activity centre on the ground floor of this tower. After changing, I went straight for the pool. There were two others in the water making steady breastroke progress. I did a front crawl. As I made my lengths, my thoughts seemed to revolve around Dougie.

Blame Daddy’s Home 2.

The water was kept at incredibly high temperatures and I soon needed to take a breather in the shallow end. A man stood at pool-side curling pint-sized irons. Probably in his seventies, just about managing to lift the courgette-shaped weights. Until recently, I would have looked upon him as a member of another species. Extra-terrestrial. Old age was another country - one I had no wish to enter. But things had changed. I had aged so much. It could have just been the Anthrophobie Suisse, but I was tired. My plane had begun its descent. As evinced by my thinning hair...

Going bald was never part of the plan. I could have got plugs, but we all know they look...not great. Furry. You can’t change your genes. So what can you do? Massage your scalp, eat B-vitamins (lots of grains), and avoid harsh shampoos. Don’t even shampoo with every wash: hair needs rest.

This was an example of the kind of fatherly advice I wished to pass on to Dougie. As the days mounted in La Maison du Délice, my heart overflowed with things a son should hear from his father. There was no keeping or catching up with these lessons untaught. It was too late.

I couldn’t even video-conference with Dougie anymore as Internet was blocked in the towers: it was as if an almighty firewall surrounded the grounds that resisted even the strongest WiFi signal. Forbidding Internet privileges was regarded as the cruellest punishment, but, honestly, inconvenient as it initially was, it eventually came as some relief. I had Roland update my autoreply to ‘Patric Farmer is currently on sabbatical’, and I accepted my offline status. Still, it would have been nice to have seen Dougie, every now and then.

I moved from pool to sauna.

It was rammed. Aged residents soothed their aching flesh and bone. We all had on ankle bracelets: the one visual clue that this was more than a residential community. The heat was intense. These guys were serious about saunas. My body pulsed and sweated. I felt my whole being melt. Melt.

Dougie.

Now ten. The big 1-0. Double digits. A decade.

Wow.

When you’re young, you get bored of old people banging on about how time flies, but good God it’s true. Life rolls happily into your 20s. You’re invincible. There are setbacks, sure, but nothing insurmountable. You climb and climb. Until slowly difficulties develop, there is a closing in of the sense of possibility, things get messy. Messy isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes the messy bits grow up to become the best things in your life.

The story of how Dougie’s mother and I met was the stuff of legend. It also explains why I wasn’t, in the early days, Best Dad In The World.

Our saga began somewhere off the coast of Malta on the Re-Rewind Cruise - a voyage dedicated to UK garage!

Q. What is UK garage?

A. The perfect marriage of beat, melody, lyric.

To suggest one of Jan’s songs as an introduction to UK garage would be nepotistic, so how about the remix of ‘Flowers’ by Sweet Female Attitude? It is impossible not to dance and to smile and be transported by its looping hooks, recurring phrases and bouncing samples. ‘Flowers’ was one of one of the landmarks of UK garage, a music that transferred easily from the bedrooms where it was composed, to the clubs where it brought revelry across the land.

These songs were a gift to DJs who could spin the ingredients into the most epic joyrides. Is that the keyboard from ‘Blues For You’? The stuttering sample of ‘Booo!’ One of the vocal lines from ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’?

That last song was just one earworm after another - there were nights I could have happily bopped to a remix of that alone extended through to the dawn.

Something I still love about UK garage is that it sounds good at any time, in any place: waking up, in clubs, picking an outfit. It is an uplifting, uniquely British soul music. Sexy, upbeat. It had it all. Had. UK garage peaked in the early Aughts. My heyday? If Placebo soundtracked my depressed teens, these were songs of the liberation found at university. There was a brief window where the clubs bounced to this music, and it was truly bliss. Thereafter ‘Minimal Techno’ came to occupy the clubs - hours of the same beat listened to by crowds of cardigan men stood nodding with a glass of tap water. This was not my scene. ‘Minimal Techno’ marked the moment I stopped clubbing and, just like that, one graduates, a step closer to the grave…

It was the summer after my Modigliani-masterminded success that the good ship Re-Rewind set sail. It was peculiar to experience one’s youth culture return as nostalgia. This was an Aughts equivalent to the ‘60s Greats’ packages attended by my parents - variety shows featuring Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, PJ Proby - and, yes, as I boarded the ship that notion brought a certain poignancy.

This was a forced vacation for me - France practically criminalises not taking holidays - and, thus, following in my parents’ footsteps, I opted to cruise.

The memories I have of that time remain as colours - one tends not so much recall as sense, the best of times - blues, yellows, whites, vivid sunlight and chlorine, cocktails, swimsuit bodies, dancing and beats, beats, beats, rhythms that rolled through days that blurred into nights that faded into one another, and Jan.

Jan.

Was, is, forever shall be: incredible. The most stunning performer, hypnotically beautiful, with something epic - is it aura? - alongside a strength, and tenderness that makes to know and be known by her a privilege.

The first night at sea, I watched her perform a set and that was that. Dead. Love at first sight. (And every sight thereafter.) Later, spotting her by the pool, I made my move, armed with a cocktail in each hand. My opening gambit? Who can remember? Jan accepted the cocktail and we got talking, talk turned to laughter, and what can I say? There are few better soundtracks to the buoyancy of new love than UK garage.

A smile.

There in the sauna, eyes closed, the memories from that trip, drew a wistful smile across my face.

Sizzle.

I opened my eyes. One of the skeletons ladled more water over the rocks. Everyone in the room had Sauna Face: suffering, open-jaw. I viewed their sagging and soggy skins with fear. Would that ever be me?

Again, I closed my eyes. Take me away, transport me to a better place, a happier time, somewhere safe. The heat prickled my skin and I let my spirit float back, back to the Med. To bikinis and mojitos, sunshine and kisses. Ainsi va la vie à bord du Re-Rewind Cruise. We enjoyed marathon love-making sessions in her cabin. Jan’s performances onstage were my refractory period – usually she’d be back within the hour. Her marriage had fallen apart that year, and I was one of her lucky ricochets. But I believe the passion we shared on the high seas was something remarkable.

I never abandoned Jan. I missed the ship’s departure in Cairo. I was sad as I watched the music sail away, but there was poetry in being left at port. It did seem a natural way to finish things - I mean, we were no more than a holiday romance, right?

I staggered out of the sauna.

The swim and sauna were refreshing but what really revived me were these thoughts of Dougie. Soon, soon, we would be reunited. I’d do things differently. All I asked for was one more final last chance. This hope against hope. This was the greatest protection against Anthrophobie Suisse. There were moments I could have submitted, allowed the whispers of give in to overcome my organs and cloud my mind: but the thought that kept me going was that when this was over and I was released I’d be able to hold Dougie in my arms.

After I towelled off and changed, I made my way back to the apartment. Once more, I stopped by Jouie:


Film ce soir

“Basic Instinct”


Interesting. I had briefly met its director, Paul Verhoeven, during my last trip to China.



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