Got a busy day ahead of me, so I’m going to cheat a bit here and post something that has been sitting, all neglected and on its poor little ownsome, as a page for a while.
Originally this was going to appear in my first novel. Having spoken to my writer’s circle last night, I’ve decided to excise it.
But I still like the characters. Laurent is drawn from life, and the prototype for Vladimir was a Ukrainian bus driver I was once friends with. There’s the usual misbehaviour and swearing from Charlie as well, which is always fun to write.
When I was still gainfully employed I worked with a really nice Frenchman, Laurent. Highly intelligent though he could sometimes accidentally obscure this fact. He was a pharmacologist for a major drugs firm.
His grasp of English was generally good, much much better than Charlie’s or my la plume de ma tante level French. But slang expressions could get the better of him. And he had a regional accent you could cut with a knife.
One day we had him and his flatmate round our place for dinner. Charlie pulled Laurent up on some linguistic gaffe, and he got a bit cross. Being French and hence gallant, he always called Charlie by her full name. His version of it anyway.
‘Shallot, yur meck furn of me all zee tarm.’
’It’s nothing personal. We make fun of everybody all the time.’
‘Yur sink ah nur furk nussing, burt zat ees not rart. Ah am smarrt. Aburt pharmacology ah durn’t nur furk nussing; ah nur furk all.’
‘Laurent, that’s very disturbing news. Remind me not to take any of your company’s drugs.’
‘You’re a Gallic idiot.’
‘Burt ah ave not been eatin gallic.’
Despite the misunderstanding, this was strictly true. He was a sucker for Charlie’s and my full bore roast dinners, and we’d spared no effort. I think she was trying to build him up, since he weighed about ten stone soaking wet. Even I weigh more than he does, but I do exceed him by a few inches. In height. The rest I can’t comment on.
Charlie went into full ‘Launch depth charges!’ mode.
‘Fuck me, Laurent, how’s life in Clochemerle? You’re a nice guy but such a hick.’
‘Hein? Burt zat ees summsing yur meck on zee nake of yur lovair, non?’
‘That’s a hickey. And it’s American. Fuck me, Laurent. Cut down on the junk television. Rick, we’d better start having fucking French lessons. What we have here is a failure to communicate.’
We never did manage to wean him off saying knickers when he meant pounds.
Laurent’s flatmate was Vladimir. He has a basso profundo voice, and a Russian accent you could also cut with a knife. He sounds like a bad guy in a Bond film. He looks like a shotputter or as if he works in a shipyard banging rivets in with his fists. In reality he’s an acupuncturist. For this reason Charlie and I referred to him as Vlad the Impaler. Laurent didn’t get this joke at all, but there’s no real reason he should.
‘So, Vladimir, what do you do when you aren’t sticking pins in people?’ I asked.
‘Sometimes I go fishing. But mainly I like crime. I like to commit crimes. The pins are, how do you say, a front. I am big boss in Mafiya.’
Even Charlie stopped short at that one.
Vlad laughed and glasses and cutlery danced around. ‘I am pulling your plinkers. I have got some of your English sense of humour, have I not?’
‘That’s plonkers you’re pulling,’ snapped Charlie. ‘You must be a bit heavy handed. In case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t fucking well have one, so you must have torn it off. I hope you’re fucking gentler with your patients, or you may as well get a job on stage shoving knives through a box containing your beautiful assistant.’
‘My lovely Charlotte, if she was as beautiful as you I would use the stems of red roses, not knives.’
I swear that Charlie simpered at him. Only for a couple of seconds, but I swear she did. Normally Charlie is so hardnosed I suspect hers is made of depleted uranium and could be used to knock out armoured vehicles. She could probably disable an APC simply by headbutting it.
‘So really,’ she simpered, ‘what do you like to do?’
‘I like ikebana and growing Bonsai trees.’
‘Fuck me. Are you sure you’re Russian and not a sign of improving Sino-Japanese relations? If you’re turning Japanese, why not take up a part time job as a Sumo wrestler?’
Vladimir chuckled, and cutlery danced around again. ‘Alas, I do not have the ability to withdraw my bullocks.’
‘You mean your bollocks, and it’s more information than I strictly need. No, I do not want to see that you can’t do it. Don’t even think it!’
‘Alas, beautiful Charlotte, I have offended you. I hang my head in shame.’
Charlie simpered again. What is it with men from other countries and the magnetic gallantry/charm stuff? If I’d used a line like that Charlie would have sneered, but both Laurent and Vlad had things off to a tee.
Laurent couldn’t understand Vlad’s English. Charlie and I sometimes struggled (unless she was simpering at him), and it’s our native language. And Vlad couldn’t understand Laurent’s English. Ditto. So they conversed in Spanish, a language they were both proficient in. You need to hear that, a Frenchman and a Russian talking Spanish, but you still wouldn’t believe it. It sounded like a conversation between two Pentecostalists speaking in tongues just before swooning. Charlie and I would look at each other, and mouth the words ‘What the fuck?’ Then one or other of them would translate for us. Having a conversation with those two was quite hard work. And a problem of our own making. Why didn’t we know Spanish, or Russian, or have better French? We brought it on ourselves. We both felt mildly ashamed.