There was this one night in France. It was the first night. We sat around a table, dinner finished, tasting some wines and chatting about whatever. We were the last ones in the restaurant. It wasn’t bad, as seaside *** hotel restaurants go. The colour scheme, with its luminous orange napkins and waterglasses, may have been ill-suited to January. The orange may have clashed somewhat with the battle-ship grey upholstery adorning the chairs, but the food was decent and the wine list good. My bavette was chewy, but bavette is supposed to be a bit chewy.
I was tired but relaxed. I think we all were.
I watched him walk through the door. Fashionable and drunk, with exaggerated movements of all limbs. I knew he was English, though his look had a Gallic edge to it. I could see the barrage of profanities swelling inside, seeking some poor member of staff to pour forth upon. As he entered further into the restaurant, someone at my table recognised him and called him over. We all shook hands. He wasn’t quite sure whether to speak in French or English. He swore the restaurant was shit. Told us we needed to go to this place.
‘The B de Plage, man. I’m sure there’s something funny going on there. Must be loads of coke in the toilets. It’s the place to be. What are we drinking? More fucking Grenache?’
‘More fucking Syrah, then. I’ve lost the key to my room. I think I left it at the B de Plage. We’ve got to get there. It’s the place be.’
We sipped our glasses as he patted his pockets again and again, looking for the keycard to his room. Every few seconds there came a shit or a fuck as he failed to locate it.
‘So we’ve got to get out of here. Got to go.’
‘B de Plage.’
‘It’s the place to be, apparently.’
‘Yeah, but there’s something on going on in the toilets. Have you seen my key?’
We all fancied a beer. The sober one of us offered to drive. Where to go?
‘B de Plage.’
We piled into the rental. My search for B de Plage on google maps failed. The one way system of Le Gau du Roi confounded us; we wound up driving in all manner of circles. Drunken directions erupted from our guest from time to time. Often just ‘no, no, no... it’s just over there’ or ‘I’ve no fucking idea where the fuck it is’ and often 'it's by the fucking beach, obviously, it's the B de fucking Plage'.
Doubt spread among us. It became Cortez’s city, or de Leon’s fountain. We aimed for the beach, and frequently missed. Still my map showed no prize. We were driving blind, guided by a howling drunken lunatic whose ravings could well have been that of the ancient mariner for all we knew. All attempts to apply logic to our course failed. We hit the same roundabouts and took different exits, only to find they led to the same places and yet more roundabouts. The rental car took some speed bumps a bit too fast and we hooted as the car leapt; cringed when the undercarriage simply scraped along.
Another circuit and we admitted failure. Decided the ancient mariner had imagined it in a booze-tinted haze. The car pulled up to the hotel and as we tumbled out I heard him say,
'I found it.'
'What? The bar? It's not fucking here, is it?'
He wandered inside, sanctuary rediscovered. We decided to drink on the beach under the stars. The January air was mild and the sea lapped quietly at the sand as the constellations twinkled and we drank our wine.
Glasses empty, we wandered back to the hotel, into the empty lobby. One of us picked up a black business card from a table covered in fliers and such things for local venues.
There was a gold 'B' emblazoned on it, and, in smaller text beneath, 'de plage'.