Ecossaise échapper à la gendarmerie dans Brest
By Ironteeth Rum Spigot (UK)
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Ecossaise échapper à la gendarmerie dans Brest
Brest, Finistère, Finis Terræ - end of the earth, Bretagne, Frogland. Fortified Naval town in an Atlantic Bay some 300 miles from Paris. The home of the French Marine, it’s landlocked and can only be entered through a mile wide opening, the Goulet, with a rock, correction, island, in the middle. The town is on the summit and sides of a projecting ridge and the entrance is decidedly fortified. It is a steep place and there are places only pedestrians can reach - a voiture free zone. The whole is built around a deep-water harbour
A creek runs down the middle separating the town on the left from the old town, Recouvrance, on the right. Upriver at the head of the creek sits an old Castle and a bridge joining both sides. The Castle that overlooks the river Penfeld was built on old Roman- Gallic foundations and looks solid with its wall, battlements and huge Keep. The whole place is reminiscent of medieval fortresses and, with high walls on both sides, the Yard looks very formidable.
There is the customary breakwater, where, usually, the British find themselves, as far away from the locals as possible. Brestians aren’t too happy with the Brits and the Yanks. During the War we flattened the place, driving off the occupying Nazis, and memories still run deep here. In the closing stages of World War Two three divisions of Yanks freed the commune after a siege of 43 days. In the process the whole of Old Brest was completely wracked and ruined.
The yard is situated between both sides of the narrow creek snaking between steep rocks which have been cut back to make room for all the buildings and paraphernalia that form a dockyard. There are even three dry docks cut out of the stone here. Once, Hulks and their convicts endured here, but they were got rid of in the 1800s, still, room for thought there.
In short, the Dockyard is literally walled in, redoutably so. By the main gate on the Dockyard side there is a hundred foot drop down a sheer wall.
In passing, Brest was where the Redoutable was built, under another name, and she is fondly remembered by the Frogs for harbouring the French Bootneck who sniped off old Horatio. Hell of a disagreement that was though. Out of a crew of 643 there were only 99 left still fit enough to fight before the Redoutable had to hoist the white cloth.
Then, ships were made of wood and men were made of steel, nowadays the ships are made of a silver to white colored, highly elastic, ductile element having atomic number 13 extracted from the common bauxite ore, and the men are all planks.
Early on this brisk Spring morning the Dockyard wall was not its usual self. It had something clinging to it. On closer inspection, by a small group of Brestian Yardies, the entity, sporting a beret, Basque, with a Jolly Roger flag rippling across its back in the ruffling breeze, chewed on a cheerfully smoking Galouise as it hummed, delightedly spaced out, throughout its descent, luxuriating in its escapade.
Vallely was escaping the clutches of the Gendarmerie Maritime.
‘Three points of contact at all times. Dig in with them freaking toes Jack! Use your freaking toes ,you masturbator! Three points of contact at all times! Twot!” Thus counselled the Corporal of Royal Marines to his charge struggling on the Wall. All the memories came flooding back to Larry, give the training team their due – you took notice of them.
This was a piece of piss in comparison.
“It’s not the fall that kills you. I have it on good authority that it is quite pleasant. It’s the DTs that kill you, or ruin your freaking day, anyway.”
“Not that kind of DTs you drunken sailor. It’s the Deceleration Traumas that freak you up, you ‘orrible little matelot.”
Colour Sergeant of the Royal Marines that time. He did so like to put on the Drill Sergeant act, loved it in fact.......“You ‘orrible little matelot, you!”
Nevertheless, they taught him how to address a vertical obstacle, ascending or descending. Most of his descendings were of the uncontrolled variety. Faster that way, he used to rationalise as he fixed his breakings.
As he enjoyed his alpinism he surveyed the scenery from his unusual vantage point. In the distance he could see the entrance into the Brest harbour between two distinct headlands, the Spaniard and the Minou. He remembered seeing them on the way in, never thinking he would be seeing them like this. The Lighthouse was quite clear and behind it he saw the large Battery on the Recouvrance side and over to the right the large Cesar Tower. He knows its name, thanks to Aimee late last night.
Recouvrance. He spent last night there with some new acquaintances, des hommes durs, no less. He doesn’t know how he got away with it but they had a bloody good session and he was still downing the Cointreau at four this morn. It’s the old quarter of the town, somehow survived most of the war damage, and was full of interesting buildings with interesting , and dodgy, people too.
Brest is almost completely grey outside the harbour; not very attractive to many, and thanks to the war, was almost completely destroyed, leaving not much in the way of historical buildings to thrill to.
Last night was Thursday and the students al fresco outside the town hall. Brest is big on educational establishments and therefore, happily, students abound. Because of this abundance of intelligentsia it could be assumed that English is spoken everywhere here.
Not so. Vallely found out years ago that speaking German, and acting as if you are German is the way forward in this bailiwick.. Second World war hangover plus the Allies recent history here make this state of affairs very understandable.
On the occasions he is found out, Valley goes to plan B.
“Anglais? Ciel interdit. Je ne suis pas anglais, je suis ecossaise, vous ne sais pas? L’anglais? Je jamais, je suis de Glasgow. ”
And, just for the fun of it, he throws in a:
“Hulule le lundi!”
Always better to be a Jock than an Englander on the Continent, or anywhere, when he thinks about it.
He was digging into a mouth watering Crepe with Seafood on the side, quaffing a 1776, when a large tough looking chap approached him.
Larry stiffened, ready for anything. This hombre looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp and appeared just as enraptured by the affair. But, appearances, as usual can be deceiving.
He gave a Larry saucy grin, his head indicating Larry’s grip on the floor between them, and said:
Larry replied in the affirmative and, noting his unusual accent the hombre continued:
Larry sensed his chance and launched into his routine, dismissing all accusations of Englishness from his identity, soul, personage, individuality and any other mortal traits thereof appertaining to him, Vallely.
He is an Ecossaise, a montagnard, un iles ocidentales pietonnieres, a Jock, a Celt.
The hombre happily got the message and his demeanour became even more pleasant. Vallely felt the old irksome paranoia that he was being set up, again. He expounded:
“Je suis un medecin, un infirmier naval, oh shit, Ich bin ein Marine Sanitater.”
The pidgin polyglot delivered the goods, doing its usual thing, and the hombre suddenly grabbed Larry by the shoulder and dragged him over to a table harbouring his Compagnons, in full entertainment fervour.
That was the beginning of the night for Vallely, and what a night. They were local hommes durs, hard men, with a smidgeon of the bandit about them. They took Larry in and most of the night was spent swapping stories about Glasgow and Brest. There was some similarity there, but they could not get their heads around the Protestant hates Catholic thing. That was old hat round here, been there, done that, killed ‘em all, end of story. They were all mixed up over the immigrant problems because they, the immigrants, won’t fit in and won’t integrate, and the Police were all over the locals who hated them both. Tensions are high with the immigrant population and people struggling to find work in deprived suburbs. Police and locals are fighting, with rioting elsewhere and armed crowds appear to be an everyday occurrence. It all sounded very dodgy to Larry and he could not help but notice that his hosts reserved their greatest scorn for the Roma, V.v. dodgy. But the Cointreau kept coming and as this was all happening outside Brest Larry could accommodate their values for the moment.
It turned into more of an interchange of vernacular and style with Larry giving of his best with a few choice Glaswegian potboilers.
His jamais ne les puits provided him with the usual cassez-vous, cochon, merde, hybride, baise, chatte. Larry in turn enlightened them with such witticisms as:
“Est-ce que vous me parlez ou mâchez une brique?” with its addendum:
“L'une ou l'autre manière vous allez perdre vos dents foutues!”
Revelling in his appreciative audience he furnished them with one of the oldest in any Glaswegian’s portfolio:
“Votre maman a-t-elle une machine à coudre?”
Usually accompanied with a head butting gesture and: “Obligez-la à piquer ceci!”
Here he educated them in the intricacies of the Osculation de Clydeside. This last went down rather well with this crowd, obviously not unfamiliar with the rougher side of debates, and sank even deeper when he showed them the very simple, but very effective defence against such a dastardly maneuver by a naughty person.
Somehow, they got onto Monty Python – big in France – and he tried to describe the flying sheep sketch with Michael Palin as the pouf célèbre. In the end, they appeased him with a special request of his, which translated as:
Mon aéroglisseur est plein des anguilles.
Georges had been rifling Vallely’s grip and found his goodies. Larry never goes ashore without some rabbits for any grippos he might come across, and here he was, gripped.
They helped themselves to his ship’s badges, small crests and a white front he had thrown in. Aimee was beside herself with the sailor’s hat, old and worn; it looked very kosher, with the ship’s name tally on. Larry took some little time showing her how he had personally tied the cap ribbon with such a wonderful little bow, impressing her with his nimble medic’s fingers.
They had a good laugh at his Jolly Roger but, weirdly, Larry thought, it didn’t take their fancy. However, Raoul pulled out an old beret and thrust it at Valley as payment.
Larry was overcome. They had taken him up, plied him with drink, shown him a bloody good time, and a laugh, and all at no expense to him. And here they were giving him a pressie. He was so overcome, he passed out.
He was only out for an hour, they told him, as they shoveled him into an ancient, battered Citroën Taxi. Raoul gave directions to the driver and his hosts, still dissolute, cheerily waved him away to his ship. In what seemed like no time at all they were at the main gate on the top of the Dockyard hill and Larry was shakily doling out the shekels to the cabbie. He did not have a clue what he was doing; the chauffeur de taxi knew it, took his wallet from him and slowly and carefully counted out his fare for Larry to see, smiling all the time. Larry joined in the smiling, expressed his beaucoup de mercies and emptied the wallet into his hand. Sod it, they were sailing in a couple of hours. He didn’t need the Kleggies. They bade each other a happy adieu and Larry headed for the gate, donning his beret and draping the Jolly Roger across his shoulders. All under the beastly gaze of two Gendarmerie Maritime.
As Valley stumbled leaving the Taxi he clocked them. Ostentatiously regaining his balance he trod steadily towards the doublet de piquet, clutching his grip, disposing his new beret, swirling his Jolly Roger over his shoulder, he straightened his trim and set course toward the unavoidable.
The Gendarmerie Maritime are not sailors, nor are they paramilitary security people. They are a decidedly French institution, not part of the French Navy but a specialized mob within the Gendarmerie. Their uniforms and badges look like the French Navy, but apparently they are different. They are Gendarmes, men-at-arms to the Brits.
Larry could see that the two contemptuous looking messieurs accosting him were gendarmes with a marechal des logis, a sergeant, watching them from a window in the gate room.
Rocket scientifickery was not required to work out that Larry was three sheets and his regression into coarse Glaswegian enunciation dogged with Clydeside patois condemned him instantly. Not being able to fathom his language or pinpoint his nationality our two guardians of the peace looked at their Sergeant who signalled to bring him in.
In the Gate House Vallely made things worse with his effusive helpfulness. All over himself to help these wonderful French men he was. Knocking pen pots over, tripping up, stumbling into a coat stand and nearly breaking one of their telephones as he answered an imaginary emergency call. He could not do enough for these brave warriors of the sea.
He, when he eventually appeared to understand their gesturing, emptied his pockets out on to the desk. With his pocket linings hanging by his hips, he thrust his hand under his belt, undid his zip and pushed his finger out. Larry was hysterical with this elephant impression and no matter how often he pointed at it with his free hand, offering them to appreciate, it fell on stony ground.
His wallet was devoid of cash and his grip was empty. More annoying for the gendarmes was….no ID. No money, no belongings, no ID, just the clothes he was wearing, a packet of Galouise, some matches, that merde beret and an os de crâne et de croix around his neck. His apprehenders wished they could squeeze it.
The sergeant knew he was a Brit, he could taste it. But he couldn’t prove it. He wasn’t going to let this drunken idiot Anglais make an ass out of him, oh no. Grabbing the telephone he motioned at his pair of flunkeys to take this disgusting wreck out of his sight. As they left Vallely could hear him ask for some Capitaine or other. Larry found himself deposited in a holding room.
From the beginning Larry had undergone, as all functioning alcoholics will happily corroborate, an acute constitutional flip-flop. He was as sober as the Master of the Rolls. Not technically, his cardio-vascular system was still awash with aqua vitae but his neuropsychological system was outwitting it for the moment.
Valley looked around his incarceration, no Bastille here. Accustomed to more restraining accommodations he weighed all possibilities. A secured, plain, windowless, wooden door. Bare, unadorned, walls about nine feet high in a room 14 feet by 20 feet. Only furniture a bare metal tubular chair next to an even barer austere wood and tubular metal desk, both situate beneath a small window about seven feet from the floor.
Larry mentally measured the window, the height of the desk and his chances. He knew what was on the other side of that window from his earlier Dockyard perambulations. A habit taught to him by an old and bold Chiefy many, many moons ago.
“Always walk round where you’re tied up. Check out everything, Laddie. You never know when it’ll come in handy.” Larry walks, and it does.
Larry knew exactly what was on the other side of that window and had no problem with it. Up on to the table, grasped the window ledge, heaved his right elbow up and into the small gap, hoicked his left arm and shoulder up into the same gap, pushed his head and shoulders through, locked his arms, rolled his belly upwards until he was laying on the lower ledge, half in and half out, squeezed himself through the space scrabbling like an epileptic octopus and hauled most of himself through to the other side. Then he stopped and took measure of his predicament.
He was half in and half out of the window, arms free, and could look at the base of the wall. Goody. A ledge three feet wide at the bottom. Statio Tranquillitatis. With further grunting and careful manoeuvring he lowered himself delicately onto the ledge. Below that the Dockyard wall, then the Dockyard ground.
Remembering all the considerations afforded him by Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, he sat on the edge, buttocks firmly clenched, gripped with both hands, turned around to face the building and slowly lowered his legs down the wall all the time feeling with his toes for purchase. First one foot, then the other, and down, one grip, then the other, down, back straight, look at the wall, three points of contact at all times, use your toes, and down, and down. Piece of wee wee.
He got into a routine, always checking his toeholds and handgrips. The wall was made of rough-hewn stone with bucket loads of little humps just waiting to take his weight. Larry was taking joy in this endeavour. Peril be damned.
Across the Dockyard Able Seaman Baker observed through binoculars this pleasing venture. Able Seaman Bennett, by his side, indulged also.
Lieutenant Commander Schnorkel took Wiggly’s binos from his grasp and directed them in parallel with Bagsy.
“Goodness me. Someone is having a good time. Not one of ours, I hope?”
With Bagsy looking his way, Wiggly covered the peg board with his body.
Bagsy drew The Officer of the Day’s attention to one of the largest Shitehawks he had ever seen and, whilst they marvelled at this monster, Wiggly moved one of the Ship’s company’s pegs from “Ashore” to “Onboard”.
“What O’clock is it please, AB?”, Schnorkel.
“Zero seven dubs, Sir.” Bagsy.
“Well. I’ll be off to the Wardroom for s spot of dejeuner then. See you at Colours.”
This is a common occurrence among some of the more world weary Officers. At this period of the watch they understand that things can sometimes become a touch delicate. Their experience has taught them that during that period certain situations are usually best dealt with by the ratings themselves. Agreement all round there.
“Think he’ll do a Valetta, Bags?” Wiggly vaguely concerned as he refocussed his binos.
“Nah. Look at him now. In Grand Harbour they had to carry him back.”
They laughed at the memory and continued enjoying the performance from afar.
Atop the wall the Sergeant greeted a newly arrived Officer to the Gate House. He explained the situation and escorted the Capitaine to the closed door to view the loathsome degenerate. Who was not there. They searched the room, if that is the word, and became very angry with one another. There is no way he could have got out. He must have come through the door and past the gate staff. Remonstrations and accusations flew. He had to have escaped past them. How did he do it? Find him! Find him, now!
The Capitaine returned to the room for a second look. Secure enough, an empty room, a chair, a table, and a window, closed. Comment ? Là où est il.
Much of Larry’s earlier grunting and careful manoeuvring was taken up with him closing the window behind him. Another old Chiefy maxim:
“Always cover your tracks, Laddie. Always cover your tracks.”
He’d also taken the precaution as he stumbled from the Taxi of stuffing his ID card down his socks.
As the Gendarmerie Maritime sprung into trouvez le bâtard mode above, Vallely was fast closing in on the old sod. The whole descent had been appreciated by a small bunch of Yardies who, when Larry cleared the wall and turned around to face them, gave him a small round of hand clapping approbation. He felt he had to reciprocate with an exaggerated arc et coup de racloir whilst doffing his beret.
“Je vous remercie, Je vous remercie” from Vallely as he delved into his half baked Charles De Gaulle impression with one hand over his left breast, head held back, speaking haughtily through his nose, said: “Peuple de la France”.
The party of artisans fell apart at him over this. His impersonation of De Gaulle was laughably abominable, his French execrable. They surely knew what he was.
“L’imbécile Anglais.” One said to another, between chokes, pointing at Larry.
Not again, thought Larry. “Not Anglais. I am Ecossais. Ecossais.”
As usual, everything changed. They clapped him on the shoulder like long lost brothers and one shook his hand frantically. Being a Jock abroad does have its benefits, he always thinks.
At that moment one of the Yardies looked to his left and drew another’s attention to some happenings there. Larry looked. The Gendarmerie Militaire were coming down the hill in their Citroens and were obviously looking for someone.
Larry cast around for an egress and noticed the Yardies looking at him, smiles all over their faces. They wasted no time and ushered Larry into the back of a nearby dilapidated old dockyard dustcart. Vallely huddled down and they whistled cheerily across the Yard, away from the Gendarmerie. The frogs were enjoying every minute of this and he loved then for it. One of the older ones told him that his little aventure had brought back memories for all of them. The good old days. He appeared almost blissfully happy to be helping Larry out in this escapade. Frag me, Yardies are the same the world over. Is it genetic? Nature or nurture? Who cares, they’re helping him and they’re bloody well enjoying it.
After a tour of the Dockyard they drew alongside his frigate. Larry got out and delivered his best “Merci, mon brave.” to their happy acknowledgements.
He looked up at the flight deck and saw Bagsy looking down at him all grim and serious. Merde, thought Larry, not for the first time.
He looked back up at Bags and saw he was pointing at him and pointing at his head and doing a frantic wave-off. No, no, fiddle-dee-dee-ing, no.
What is wrong with old Bags thought Larry then realised what a pimmelkopf he was being. The beret, the frigging beret. He whipped it off and grandiloquently swished the Jolly Roger from his shoulders. Looking for somewhere to ditch them he saw his rescuers watching him with pleasure. What is the Ecossais going to do now? They thought. He could see it written all over their beaming faces, they’re enjoying every minute of this. Still, he went up to the older man and offered him the beret. Astonished is too small a word to describe his reaction. He took it, showed it to the others, whacked it on his head, arranged it just so, struck a noble pose and turned for his camarades to admire.
The Jolly Roger he didn’t have to offer. An even older homme practically snatched it saying “Mes enfants, mes enfants.” Larry could see him regaling his grandchildren with the Tale of the Singular Scottish Sailor fleeing through the Dockyard with the dastardly Gendarmerie in hot pursuit and he, Grandpappa, was there springing the sailor to freedom. Vallely enjoyed that little daydream, true though it probably is.
He bade his farewells and sprinted up the Gangway, straight into Bagsy, with Wiggly close behind. They both waggled their binos, Wiggly saying;
“We know what you were doing, we know what you were doing.”
“For Fred’s sake. I’ve got to get ‘tween decks before the Plod see me.”
“What the flying frog happened Larry? I’ve just checked the Dockyard map and the cop shop is at the top of that wall. Doing a runner…….. again?”, Bagsy.
“Well, he is steadier on his feet compared to Customs House.” Wiggly allowed.
“Not for much longer if I have to stand around here all day.” Larry.
Bagsy took his notebook from his jacket and flipped to the back, reading aloud from it in an affected boffin voice:
“Let me see now. Ah Yes, here we have it. Soluble Ar see tally sallic Acid, Effervescence Vitamin see, Aye bee you pro fen, three heaped spoonfuls of sugar and Tink tee your of More feen – to taste. I remember that. Good stuff.”
“Don’t forget the gulpers Bags. Got to have the gulpers.” Wiggly.
“Correct Wiggly. As many gulpers as you can manage. Gulpers of Oxygen. Is that correct, Doc?”
“You freaking know it is. You’ve had it often enough. Any roads, youse gits, that’s on the sneaky beaky QT. You’ll get me shot for dishing that out. Illegitimates! All right, I’ll get a crock of the crap up to you two decadents. But keep it friggin quiet.”
“Well than Larry, you had better shuffle off then before Schnorkel gets back. You are not on his Christmas card list you know. Sad that.”
“Ain’t it just Bags. Just because I shat on his cock-up during leave when no one was supposed to know about it. I am that sad Illegitimate. Can I get my fornicating Swede down now?”
“Off you go Larry. Remember our medicine. It works wonders, don’t it Wiggly?”
“Too Tweeting right it does Bagsy. Remember that morning in 'Amsters?”
They both winced at the memory. Larry had saved their lives that morning with that top secret, illegal concoction. Bagsy thought he would have had to get on bended knee for the recipe. Not that it would do any good as Larry had all the important ingredients, but you never know.
As Vallely stumbled towards the hangar doors, his neuropsychological system was beginning to lose the contest, they looked at each other reminiscing pleasantly,
“A few of the lads had to carry him onboard.” Bagsy.
“In Valetta.” Bagsy.
“In Grand Harbour.” Bagsy.
“On Customs House steps.” Bagsy.
“At Twelve O’Clock, Midday.” Bagsy.
“Right in the middle of a Cocktail Party on the flight deck.” Bagsy
“And he got a-freaking-way with it!” Bagsy.
They both looked at Vallely’s departing futtocks and said simultaneously:
They finished their watch a pair of happy bears that day.