Friday, 26 June 2009

Half your age... plus seven

How young is too young? Or, more specifically, what qualifies as too much toy and too much boy?

As a result of a tryst with a floppy-haired Frenchie last Friday night, it’s a question I’ve been mulling over considerably this past week. Actually, as I met him at a bus stop at 5am I think technically the tryst took place on Saturday morning. I’m aware of how this sounds but in all fairness at the time my friend Mindy and I had been seeking protection from a toothless tramp, one that had pulled down his pants and tugged at his penis in a most unsavoury manner before following us down the street.

On hearing of our trouble, the bus stop boy and his friend agreed to act as our chaperones. Alas, the toothless one was persistent and, failing to lose him, we decided to hide in the boy’s nearby apartment until the stalker got bored and went away. Of course, once ensconced in the cosy living room Mindy and I were more than happy to share a bottle of Merlot and a game of cards; just because we had to be here, for our safety, there was no reason why we couldn’t enjoy ourselves as well. The friend was a croupier and he wowed us with his nimble fingers and magic tricks. In return we taught them how to play Shit Head. By the time I’d noticed the sunlight streaming through the window, I was curled up on the sofa with bus stop boy, his silky locks against my cheek. When Mindy hinted that we should go, I simply shrugged and told her to watch out for the sex pest on her way home.

Arriving back at mine around lunchtime, Mindy raised her eyebrows, ‘Have fun?’ I rubbed my temples. ‘Where’s the boy?’ Mindy continued, ignoring my scowl, ‘Back with mummy? Or is he doing his homework?’ ‘He wasn’t that young,’ I mumbled, barely mustering the strength to form a defence, ‘he’s doing his finals.’ ‘Yeah, his baccalauréat maybe,’ Mindy scoffed. ‘Did you not see the timetable on his desk? If he’s at university why is he studying Maths, Art, Geography and English?’ I shrugged, ‘Obviously the French education system is a bit different. Come on Mind, he’s so not a schoolboy.’ ‘He’s just passed his driving test!’ Okay, this was true. In fact, he had received the letter only that morning and was as excited as a baby lab. I’d found it endearing at the time. I gasped. Dear God, he was still a teenager. ‘Serves you right for letting your friend walk through the streets of Nice in a black body-con mini dress at 7am,’ Mindy folded her arms and nodded at me sharply. ‘And to think, people were assuming I was a prostitute when you…’

Later that day, at Kitty’s pool party, Mindy kindly spread the news that I had a new amour. ‘So hang on a second,’ JC looked up from his plate and held his BBQ chicken in midair, ‘you met two men at a bus stop at 5am and then went back to their apartment? That’s sensible is it girls? And then you…’ JC shook his head at me, ‘and with a child too.’ ‘He was twenty-one,’ I screwed up my eyes and aimed a balled up paper napkin at his forehead, ‘he drank bloody Merlot for Christ sake.’ ‘We’re in France,’ he threw the napkin back, ‘that’s what the kids drink here.’ I sighed, unable to see what the fuss was about; I’ve always liked younger men. In fact, at university I had such a thing for preppy boys in their school uniforms that I had to rule out being a teacher on the basis that an affair with one of my students would be inevitable.

Now that there is a full decade standing in the way of me and a sixth former, the schoolboy thing doesn’t really hold the same allure as it used to but surely any guy over the age of twenty is fair game. As Aaliyah sagely pointed out, age ain’t nothing but a number and this whole bus stop boy incident was making me wonder if it wasn’t time to accept that I was destined to end up with a toy boy. ‘So,’ I enquired ‘how young is too young?’ Snoozie, so called because of her narcoleptic tendencies, had a definitive answer, ‘Half your age plus seven. Any figure below, kiddie fiddling.’ I worked on the maths. ‘Twenty-one is totally fine,’ I said eventually, feeling vindicated. ‘Oh yes, fine. Don’t worry, my boyfriend is younger than me too.’ ‘He’s two years younger Snooz,’ Mindy interrupted, ‘it’s hardly the same as deflowering an adolescent.’ ‘I did no such thing,’ I wailed but I could see arguing was futile; by the end of the party I would be known only as the girl who “deflowers” teenage boys.

‘You know,’ I said, brightening up, ‘if he’s on his school holidays he’ll have a lot of time free over the summer.’ ‘Yep, you can hang out together at the arcade,’ JC winked at me, ‘or loiter in the shopping centre. You can watch him do tricks on his skateboard in the park, treat him to an ice cream.’ ‘Now hang on JC,’ I rolled my eyes at him, ‘your letting your imagination run away with you now. I’m no sugar mummy.’ Realistically, with his pocket money alone, bus stop boy probably had a better income than I did. The ice creams would definitely be on him.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

And They Call It Puppy Love

A couple of weeks ago my little ward took me to her local piscine. She is enviously proficient in the water and took great pleasure in correcting my front crawl (I have the technique of a toddler). I was trying to concentrate on her instructions but the strapping lifeguards patrolling the poolside were proving to be a distraction so she gave up and launched into a synchronised dance whilst I attempted to find a sexy way to tread water. Alas, next to an adolescent aqua nymph, I feared my uncoordinated splashing would do little to impress the finely honed athletes. Finally, after my ward had challenged me to an underwater summersault contest, one of the Olympians blew his whistle and told us to get out of the way of the grown ups doing lengths.

We retreated to the children’s pool and, with our feet firmly on the ground, we relaxed against the side. Suddenly, my ward looked over her shoulders to check the coast was clear, then whispered, ‘I want to ask you something.’ I smiled at her to go on. ‘It’s just that all the boys who like me are the ones that I don’t like. Why is that?’ ‘That is one of life’s greatest mysteries,’ I waved my hand helplessly. ‘The ones you don’t want won’t leave you alone whilst the ones you do will be impossible to get. Always.’ I paused and narrowed my eyes at her, ‘By “like”, you mean like right?’ She nodded and I gasped: I’d always assumed she was the sweet and innocent type.

Of course, it was inevitable that she would be corrupted by the opposite sex eventually and, once I got over the initial shock, I was delighted that she wanted to share her romantic troubles with me. Mind you, as she reeled off the names of all the boys trying to court her, it occurred to me that she really didn’t have much to worry about. Obviously, the one she wanted was a moody bad boy. But it sounded like even he was putty in her hands. ‘If he likes you,’ I advised, ‘then tell him that you like him back.’ She shook her head adamantly. ‘Okay, if you can’t face doing it then get your friend to tell him. That will give him the confidence to approach you. Just be straight with him. No games.’

The following week, she ushered me into her lounge excitedly. ‘He asked me,’ she said, jumping on the spot. I frowned. ‘Jonas?’ she rolled her eyes. I squealed and joined her in the jumping. ‘My friend talked to him in registration and at break time he asked if I would I like to be his girlfriend. Go out with him. Do boys say that in England?’ ‘Sure they do… when they’re fourteen.’ I felt a sudden pang for the days when it was all so simple. ‘Anyway, you said yes, right?’ ‘I said I need time. For thinking.’ I raised my eyebrows, ‘Playing hard to get?’ ‘No. It’s just that there is this other boy…’ Another boy? I sighed and sat down heavily on the sofa. She sat on the armchair beside me. Arno was, by all accounts, less good looking but funnier and he was suddenly making a play for her affections.

When she had finished explaining, I grabbed her by the hand, ‘Now listen to me, I am wise… Okay, I am older than you and I won’t let you make the same mistakes. Last week, when he was “a challenge”, you wanted Jonas. Now he wants you and you’re not sure. This is human nature. But although the grass may suddenly look greener elsewhere it’s not, believe me.’

We decided to resolve the contest by methodically measuring up the credentials of the two suitors. We logged into Facebook. When it came to looks, there was no comparison: obviously Jonas was a tad too young for me - at the moment - but by teenage standards he was seriously hot. I then squinted at Arno's thumbnail. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a nice lad but funny isn’t everything. I clicked back to the hottie. ‘Go for this one,’ I commanded. She looked at the gelled black hair, blue eyes and dimples. ‘You are right,’ she eventually nodded, ‘I do love Jonas.’ ‘Not love,’ I corrected, ‘like, you like Jonas.’ ‘No,’ she replied firmly, ‘I love him.’ ‘No, like.’ She looked confused, ‘LOVE.’ ‘Fine, you love him,’ I conceded reluctantly, given that she had been considering dumping him only moments earlier I thought her on shaky ground, ‘but you’re not in love with him, not yet.’ She cocked her head, ‘In love?’ I tried to think of a way to explain the difference using rudimentary English and gave up instantly. She’d understand one day.

Going back to FB, I showed her my latest French fancy. ‘He is also good looking,’ she said approvingly. ‘You love him?’ ‘Oh yes,’ I sighed, ‘but there’s no hope, he’s not like that. He’s just for fun.’ ‘You are a bad girl,’ my ward giggled. I didn’t see any point in denying it. ‘Oh, don’t look so worried! I am a bad girl too,’ she tried to make me feel better. ‘And it’s good to be bad,’ she winked at me.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

It's a Tramp's Life

Now that summer is in full swing, the down and outs residing under the arches close to my apartment are in their element. A sheltered suntrap, this particular strip of sidewalk is, evidently, one of the premier spots in town for picking up a tan. I can only imagine how difficult it is to procure a square of pavement; it seems to be run by some kind of cartel that allows only the crème de la crème of Niçois homeless to pass out there.

Riding my bike past the arches with my boss Tommy the other day, we rounded the corner and came across a bunch of residents congregating behind the Notre Dame church. They were sitting on moth-eaten armchairs and upturned crates, kicking back in the early evening sun, drinking vin straight from the bottle and listening to tunes on the radio. One was donning a sombrero. ‘Bloody hell,’ Tommy shouted as we peddled by, ‘on the Riviera even tramps have civilized soirees.’ He wasn’t wrong: it looked more sophisticated than any party I’d been to for a while. ‘I’m tempted to gatecrash,’ I said, ‘one of them was fit.’ Tommy laughed, ‘Maybe you should go back, ask if he comes here often.’ I looked over my shoulder and seriously considered turning around.

Is it really so wrong to fancy the homeless? Or has something gone slightly askew? Either way, I noted with concern that most people at the street party looked better than me. Tommy told me not to worry: he regularly saw this crowd rummaging through the refuse sacks dropped off by benevolent jetsetters outside Nice’s premier charity shop. They were actually kitted out in some of the best second hand gear in the world. ‘You’re telling me that I’ve been buying clothing already discarded by prostitutes, squatters and junkies?’ I wailed. This was a new low. ‘In all fairness,’ Tommy said, trying to make me feel better, ‘their life isn’t that great.’ To illustrate, he told me about a tramp in his neighbourhood who lingers over the freshly baked pain au chocolate in the corner shop every morning. Tommy said that it was painful to watch the guy looking between the bottles of cheap wine and fresh pastries, weighing up which one he should spend his money on. ‘Of course,’ Tommy concluded, ‘the wine always wins.’ I related to this man's dilemma but deemed it better to say no more, Tommy being my boss and all.

The next day B came into Nice to pick me up. ‘I’m parking the Lambo in front of Notre Dame,’ he shouted down the phone, ‘you know the spot where all the old hobos sleep.’ ‘Hang on B, isn’t that a little thoughtless?’ I interjected. ‘I’m not sure they’ll appreciate you rocking up in your expensive car. Sort of rubs it in.’ ‘Hey,’ B said, clearly offended, ‘I like the homeless. I actually befriended a tramp once. I was hanging out with him for days. He was a great guy.’ To prove his affiliation with street dwellers, B then pressed money into the palm of a man who knocked on the car window when we were stopped at the traffic lights. It suddenly occurred to me that B might see me as a kind of tramp too; that could explain why he was so good to me.

Going to Cannes on the Friday morning I was forced to harness my own inner samaritan as I watched a homeless guy stumble onto the bus and wobble over to the seat next to mine. You could see the mixture of relief and pity etched on the face of the woman sat in front of me. Of course, the stench was horrendous but I reminded myself that the poor man probably didn’t have access to a hot shower. He rocked in his seat and talked to himself; occasionally one of his scrawny limbs would fly into the air without warning. At 10am, half way into the two-hour journey, he opened his beer and the froth spurted everywhere. I had a doctor’s appointment. He was going to think that I had a drinking problem. I considered moving to another seat but then I remembered my benevolent B and decided against it; this guy had probably experienced enough rejection in his life.

I was about to get off at the next stop, hide behind a tree and wait for the following bus, when the man stood up. He gave me a nod, or possibly it was the tick. I fought the impulse to hold my nose and managed a smile. I then watched as he fell from the vehicle and sloped off towards the beach, a towel over his shoulder and a beer in his hand. Living on the streets in the Riviera, really wasn’t such a tough life. If you could just get a coveted spot under the archway then you'd really made the big time. I wondered what I'd have to do to get on the list.