Does anyone – other than M. Bertillon from a seminal 1987 GCSE French textbook – still say ‘zut alors! ’? It is the sort of thing this icon of beret-wearing contrivance used to exclaim when stung by Kiki La Guêpe, prevented, as he was, from shouting the more realistic ‘Fuck me, that hurt!’
La Famille Bertillon – a kind of Gallic Ask the Family type of family, almost crunchy in their wholesomeness – holidayed in La Rochelle and were often to be seen carrying baguettes; the young people went to ‘boums’, said ‘super’ a lot and spent a quite unlikely amount of time in youth clubs playing ‘baby-foot’. They did not refer to snogging or dogging or pegging, and their linguistic exchanges with pen pals were of an entirely anodyne and innocent nature. Or at least that is what the compilers of the textbooks had us fourteen-year-olds believe. Back in the dim and distant past this was the type of French I learned. I am, I admit, d’un certain âge and I am not even sure school kids have textbooks anymore. We had M. et Madame Bertillon, Miquet le Chat and Phillippe, Marie-Claude and Alain. They have Mr Smart Board, Virtual Learning Environments and sexting.
Ancient and uncool though I may be, I too can embrace the modern, and – among other embraces – I have embraced Tinder. I embraced for a whole week and my strike rate, taking a statistical mean, was formidable. Or ‘formidable’, as Mme Bertillon might say. Did I say this was going to be a rude story? Maybe I didn’t, but it is, and perhaps I had better offer La Famille Bertillon a fresh copy of Paris Match to distract them before I begin my tale.
I’ll give you the bare facts first. It had been a while since I had had sex with anyone other than myself. A long while. And even before it was a long while there had been an even longer while of run of the mill, meh sex with the One And Only. That the One And Only eventually turned out to be the It’s Not Me It’s You only added to my sense that there was going to be No Parking in the Underground Car Park for the foreseeable future. It was also all a bit tumbledown in there, the walls crumbling, leaks, moss, hadn’t updated to in-app payments, and so on.
Am I taking the metaphor too far? Tant pis.
To dip one’s toe in the vast lake that is Tinder is to be faced – literally – with the embodiment of all one’s prejudices, but also to be forced to confront each and every one of this array of biases, preconceptions, racisms, chauvinisms, body fascisms, snobberies (insert own form of narrow-mindedness which applies here), etc.. Can I truly say that in admitting these, I reassessed my negative reactions to the human race and, as a result, became a better person? I fear that I cannot.
So I swipe left fiercely and dismiss the men who fail to get their entire head in the picture; who commit apostrophe crime in their mini biog; who have taken their selfie in a bathroom or their car; who display their children; who are holding a fish, petting a koala, posing with a gun (that’s the man posing with the gun, not the koala. Nor is the fish petting the koala – you see how vital punctuation is?); whose only photo is of their naked midriff; who chippily proclaim their education as ‘The University of Life’; who have been to Loughborough University (I just have a historical thing against it); those without nice middle class names (I am being honest, I know I am a terrible person); those whose profile picture is an inspirational quote; and anyone who looks like Shrek.
It was my just deserts then, perhaps, that the men who got through my broad-brush exclusions and responded to my very draconian approach to swiping were, initially, few and far between. The first was a welder from Droitwich whose profile picture was fairly straightforward and jolly. On further investigation, however, he had other pictures that displayed his fondness for fishing: his evident love for the seven-pound flounder that he clasped tenderly in his skinny arms was charming, but did not exactly scream ‘hot date’ at me.
The second respondent said he was French, and while he turned out not to be the Alain Delon-alike his photograph suggested, after a little banter back and forth, his real appearance was revealed and was pleasingly Left Bank, although I would have given him a good dozen years on his claim to be 47. His English was sketchy, but the challenge of pulling in French was distinctly alluring. He later revealed that he was, in fact, Belgian. This was excellent news as the Belgians, along with the Swiss, use the charming and entirely sensible word nonante for ninety, septante for seventy, etc., and speak much slower than other francophones, although I gather that, to Parisians, a Belgian’s accent locates him firmly in a Walloon equivalent of Bromsgrove.
It was true that I had been years in the sexual desert and the last time I had tried dating, New Labour seemed like the dawn of the Renaissance and pay-by-phone parking was still only a dream. But I felt sure I would be a quick learner, and it took me little more than two hours to decide that I was on for a bunk-up. Sex, not sense, was at the forefront of my mind, moreover exotic sex – in French. At ten to midnight I texted a friend with the location of the hotel he was staying in and such contact details as I had, just in case I woke up dead.
Hurrah for electric shavers and the fact that my best dress was just back from the cleaners. It might have been advisable to have been properly equipped instead of thinking ‘fuck it, tights will do’ when a rootle through the drawer turned up not a single stocking (although, on its own, a single one wouldn’t have been much use anyway and might have seemed eccentric), because this led to complications later on.
There had been a bit of text discussion about what I should wear, or rather what I should not wear (knickers were to be absent, ditto bra). I am at the stage of life where undergarments act as very necessary props used in the construction industry for the shoring up of rickety buildings, so being told that I was to come to his hotel room sans culottes was unsettling (and wasn’t that something to do with the French Revolution? How did things pan out in Belgium during the Revolution? Did Belgium even exist then? Perhaps best not mention the Revolution).
Let us give this man a name, for ease of identification. He will be Bertrand. I think he looked like a Bertrand in his picture, although it was difficult to verify this in the gloom of his hotel room later on and we didn’t share names. He said that he preferred to be in control and enjoyed role-play of the Dom/sub variety, although not extreme. He said that he would check with me at every stage if I was still happy with what was going on and invite me to stay or leave as I wished. This seemed a level of empathy way higher than in my longest, most respectable relationship, so on no evidence whatsoever I decided he was a good egg. Well, a goodish egg I suppose. A good enough egg. And the D/s thing? Well, I am always up for new experiences.
We arranged to meet at his hotel, a smart boutique-ish one in Maida Vale.
You know those capsule hotel rooms that you get in Tokyo? Well imagine something that sort of size, and that sort of functionality, where the bedside table is a kind of tray bolted to the very small bed. Bertrand had the grace to be embarrassed that his room boasted a single bed and that was about it, but we decided to make the best of it. There hadn’t been much of a ‘hello’ or even a ‘comment allez-vous?’ when I had appeared in the corridor outside his room, having confidently bypassed the concierge to ascend to the third floor. It was apparent very quickly that this homme spoke little and didn’t care for chitchat.
Before the hook-up, he had given guidance as to how I could get past the concierge of his hotel, at midnight, and not look like a prostitute, or be challenged as to where I was going. I toyed with the idea of getting a pizza box and holding it as I went in to the hotel lobby under the guise of a Deliveroo provider but then worried that a greasy and empty pizza box might not add to the air of urbane empowered sexpot that I wished to cultivate. I considered whether it would be better to have a full box of pizza. But which toppings? Topping from the bottom. A little BDSM joke but one I would struggle to translate and one that might not work in French.
It was dark in the room and his voice was low and growly
It was dark in the room and his voice was low and growly. He asked me to raise my skirts and show that my undergarments were removed. I am not very good at role-play and felt a terrible urge to laugh, but I managed to convert it into a sort of sneeze. And since there was little light, he wouldn’t have seen the corners of my mouth twitching both with mirth and embarrassment.
So I lower my tights, my bare bottom is appraised and then just as I am tugging the tights up again I am told to arrête and get down on my pattes. My pattes? My paws? Knees? Walk like a dog? Or did he say cat? Not sure what animal I am meant to be but getting the general command, I go on all fours towards the door – all of about a yard and a half (no, I have not gone metric yet). It is at this point that I become aware of the difficulty of looking sexy: the tights, half way down my thighs, hobble me as I inelegantly make my way across functional hotel carpet. But showing willing, I turn at the door and look over my shoulder provocatively (caninely? felinely?) and do a little puppyish wiggle of my backside, all the while aware that with tights around my knees hampering my movement, I look more like a strange bare-arsed slug. I make the short struggle back to him and feel the giggles rising almost painfully in my chest. Bertrand however looks deadly serious, but also satisfied, fortunately, that his instructions have been carried out.
I am permitted to remove the crippling tights. And after a short struggle when one leg of nylon gets caught on the heel of my shoe and I fall sideways, tangled, grabbing wildly at a Corby trouser press which, like a Zimmer frame, keeps me upright, I am free and the air cools my nethers deliciously.
Bertrand commands me to my knees and unzips his jeans. It can be at this point that fear of sighting a Y-front, or worse, a comedy-patterned pair of pants, can bring on mild panic. He is too quick however and he pushes down both trouser and pant in one seamless motion, affording me a brief glimpse of what looks bizarrely like Airedale-patterned boxers (Airedale? Isn’t that a Scottish breed? Do the Belgians have a thing about Airedales? Even so, why would they have them on their underwear?). I am pulled up sharply in this tangential thought process by the vision of a huge smooth erect penis twanging up from concealment like a jack-in-the-box. Something else that briefly catches my attention is the fact that the dense pubic hair surrounding this proud member has been shaped with the geometric precision of a Renaissance knot garden, achieved, surely, only if Tradescant had had access to a Flymo Contour 500. My mouth must have been handily agape because again my musings are cut short, this time as his cock bobs against my lips. I know the French word for suck as Phillippe Bertillon was once grondé by his school teacher for suçant une sucette dans la salle de classe so I take Bertrand in my mouth and begin. Back to the renaissance garden theme, I am soon cursing my lack of foresight to bring a padded kneeler. The grinding of my diminishing cartilage seems to be being voiced by Bertrand who is doing a low growling noise of evident arousal. He mutters something in his basso profundo which I can’t quite hear – mouth full of cock and a slight cold combine to make my hearing more muffled even than usual – but it might be about his wanting to rejoice, or something (I make a mental note to google it later – ah, jouisse!). He withdraws himself with a sigh and there is a glistening at his tip and a mild, not unpleasant scent which provokes in me a memory of catering a party for an Archbishop of Canterbury and realising while crafting some feta and thyme triangles, that uncooked filo pastry smells exactly like spunk. My catering career was cut short as I announced my findings audibly enough that the news carried up the dumb waiter to where the party guests and the Archbishop were. Filo sheets are a bugger to use anyway, so I wasn’t too cast down.
But further reminiscence is impossible as I am suddenly pulled on top of my Belgian who lies back with a sigh on the slender bed. I manoeuvre myself to straddle him (à cheval?) and begin a marvellous fuck-ride. He circles my clitoris with the flats of two of his fingers and I am momentarily distracted by noticing he has obviously recently had a manicure. I close my eyes to get back into my stride and feel the rush of heat and endorphins flood me. But Bertrand allows me to edge to an orgasm and no further. He flips me over on to my front – an awkward manoeuvre due to the lack of space. He re-enters the warm wet place he had so recently vacated and then a stinging swipe makes contact with my bottom. I squawk, less sexy voice than cat whose tail has just been trodden on. Bertrand’s palm slaps each buttock in turn and he pauses only to whisper something along the lines of, ‘Are you happy with this? Do you consent? Are you drafting an email to your lawyer in your head about a non-molestation order?’ He can’t see me shaking my head in the gloom of the room so I pant ‘Encore, encore!’ only hesitating slightly in uncertainty if this is used much outside of a concert hall. And encore it is as he fucks me and slaps me, and I feel a quickening and an electricity through my whole body which launches me into fireworks of release.
Trying to remember the subjunctive ‘il faut que tu fais, que tu fu, fasse?’ during the throes of passion is distracting and even when accomplished can add to the air of speaking like a crinolined lady slightly at odds with the casual hook-up nature of the encounter. My amant growled in heavily accented English, ‘Stick to the present tense!’ as I struggled to articulate what it was that I needed that he did (the subjunctive does not work elegantly in English). I realise that his aim was probably more towards getting his end away and I am not sure he would have worried had I spoken in Esperanto as long as I had acquiesced to his many and varied wants, but it was a matter of pride for me to get the endings correct. It is possible I may also have veered into the Past Historic at one slightly confused, if literary, moment. I am not sure if the response to ‘Tu aimes la sodomie?’ very often comes back as ‘comme si, comme ça…’ because it never came up in my French GCSE. It seemed to satisfy Bertrand, though, as he replied that he himself was not a huge fan. Let it not be said that I was not very present there, having exotic sex with a complete stranger in that minuscule hotel room, but I have to admit that I was at the same time compiling in my head a glossary of 100 Useful French Demotic Sexual Terms Every Bright Girl Should Know (no copyright in ideas, but hands off, that’s already in production. I may tinker with the title).
Question: when addressing a dominant lover, is it ok to tutoyer? Should one ask, ‘Dois-je vous vousvoyer?’ and is vousvoyer even a thing, even a word? Just one of the issues I had failed to research before pulling on my fuck-me shoes.
Bertrand was himself, definitely, a cunning linguist but in the dark of his hotel room, his voice low and seductive and my hearing not what it was, partly because of a fizzing air-conditioning vent, there were moments when I was not quite sure if he was suggesting sticking something in my bottom, my vagina, my neck (surely not), or was he merely pointing out I was leaning painfully on his leg?
In the dark, whispered words of filth in a language in which one is not entirely fluent can be confusing. Asking them to please say that again or speak up doesn’t really fit the atmosphere. Maybe you can ask once, but beyond that, I think not. But is he talking about my cul, my cou, my queue, my con? I feel I need to know. Ah. That’s what it was. Another one to go in the 100 Useful Terms. And after so long in the sexual boondocks, there are nowadays many more considerations to take into account. Buying condoms: what size to get; do I text him to ask if he has any allergies? And I had a peanut butter sandwich at teatime. Should I text him again and ask about nuts?
But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of adult relations, sex, fortunately, hasn’t changed much from one era to the next. And when it was all over and both of us had rejoiced enough for total satiety there was again, despite the recent exchange of bodily fluids, the slight awkwardness of being two complete strangers. He said ‘Merci’, as if he really meant it, and kissed me on each cheek. He hadn’t asked me my name, nor had I asked his, and it really didn’t seem to matter. I made use of the facilities, helped myself to two hotel soaps and a bath hat, and quietly stepped out of the room. Adieu, Bertrand, à tout à l’heure. Bonne nuit M. Bertillon, Mme Bertillon, et ne me pique plus, Kiki.
Illustration: Louis Berthomme Saint-André, c.1940