I had to write something. It was too big a moment to miss, but after finishing it I suddenly realised it would be churlish to post it at the same time as a better writer was serving up her own slice of Paris. So here, a day late, is my own little homage to a gentleman and player.
THE KING IN YELLOW
I kicked him out of bed to make the tea. I mean, what else are men good for? Then, as I moved, a little twinge told me the answer to that one. He had surprised me with the tickets, so what else could I do but surprise him back?
We had packed the night before, so it was easy enough to grab anything last-minute he had forgotten. I don’t know why, but he never, ever makes a list. I like to sit, days before, and lay out my needs in groups. Years of cycle-touring taught me that. Then, over the next few days, I read and re-read the list, adding, subtracting, refining…he just throws together what he needs at the last minute. I had had to nag him to pack the day before; if he had his way he would still have been squeezing stuff in when the taxi driver was ringing the doorbell.
Breakfast, my style for once, with decent bacon and herby sausages, but still taken in the gaze of his wonderful eyes, the eyes that had looked into mine last night as…later, girl. I started to smile again.
“What is funny, my love?”
“Tell you later, yeah? Shower, dress: what do you want me in?”
“I have always liked you in a dress…and of course, out of one”
“Didn’t you have enough last night?”
“No. Didn’t you? Ah, you have the blush far too easily!”
Naughty, naughty, lovely man. I chose one of my favourites for him, in orange and white, and we loaded our small cases into the minicab and set off for St Pancras and the Eurostar. I knew he had booked in hope, but he had done it for me, and the previous day had gone so well there was surely no chance of a blow-up, not this late.
Through the French passports, into the waiting area, find the carriage, claim our seats, look at the menu---how bloody much for a sandwich? Sod that! We’d eat on arrival. I mean, isn’t that what the place is for? Another twinge…oh well, that too. He was, as ever, a gentleman, giving me the window seat, and that set off another train of thoughts. He was a gentle man, in so many ways, gentle enough to see past what I had once seemed to be to whom I had always been inside, and to stay with me as the two were brought together by my doctors and a lovely man in Thailand. He had stood beside ne throughout my periods of despair at the delays, and he had lain beside me so many nights that would have seen me collapsed in tears. When he was away, I would have felt lost if I had not known, utterly and without doubt, that his return was inevitable. My life, my saviour, missing bit of my jigsaw, all were true. I started to laugh again, and he looked at me, eyebrows raised.
“Please share, my sweet”
“Sorry, darling, but, well, I was just thinking about life, yeah, and I had this image, of you, as a missing piece of my jigsaw, and that sort of, well…we fit together so nicely”
He leant in closer. “You wish to solve a jigsaw puzzle tonight?”
Oh dear. If I had had the particular glands…well, just ‘oh dear’. How to say it? The sex was more than I had ever imagined, after everything was sorted, but it was more than that, it was the love. Ever since our first meeting I had fancied him, in a purely physical sense: a slap in the face of lust on sight. It was the man, though, the man who had courted me, won me, married me, loved me so well and so deeply that I sometimes felt inadequate. I mean, I knew I loved him back, but how could someone as shallow as me ever hope to pay back such a gift? I did what I could, just then, and kissed him, which was always nice, and the train was off.
There’s not a lot to see in Kent, but the train was making good time as it rolled along, and then we were in a sort of goods yard, and all of a sudden it was dark outside as my ears popped. My husband smiled, and held out a small roll of foil, one chocolate remaining. His last Rollo…soppy man. He settled back into his seat to doze, and rather spoilt the gesture by smiling and saying,
“I do have three more packets in my bag, my sweet”
Bright sunshine, another change in pressure, and a perceptible acceleration as the train hauled itself up to its top speed of around 180mph, or so they claim. I began to feel mildly seasick, as the train rode the undulations of the track at speed, but managed to keep it all together. Throwing up on my beloved would have been a bit impolite. We slowed as the suburbs crowded round us, and then:
“There it is, love! Le Tour!”
“No, my sweet, that is a feminine tour. The masculine one is the other thing we have come to see”
“You love me nonetheless, no?”
“Guilty…but you know that”
Gare du Nord is a cavernous place, but we were soon out, onto Pigalle with our minimal luggage and heading for the hotel he had booked somewhere near Montmartre. We only had two nights there, with the Finish to see the next day, and it had all been booked as a surprise by my beloved. Train tickets, rooms, all predicated on Wiggo coming home in yellow, and all kept so secret from me. He had simply asked if I could perhaps get the Monday off work, and I should really have guessed, but hey, I spent too many years pretending to be a bloke, it must have damaged me in more ways than the depression.
Once more, I felt my love for this man surge inside me. Not only did he love me, despite all that crap in my life, but he knew me, knew exactly what would make my day. Weekend. Sod it, life. And, well, we had heard the news of the time trial stage by then, and it was real, it was true. The Tour was British at last.
“I have a reservation in a small family place I know, my sweet”
“You taken women there before, love?”
“Yes, but she was my mother, so you will no doubt cope. But we must dress for this occasion”
“Darling man of mine, you did not say we must be formally turned out this weekend. I mean, I’ve brought tidy, but not dressy, yeah?”
“Then it is fortunate that I have prepared properly this time”
We were in the hotel room, which was a little small, but, hey, this was Paris, and he unzipped his suitcase. The sod had packed my one and only LBD, and—
“Hang on, that’s not mine! Or, at least it wasn’t. You sod, you’ve been shopping! How the hell…I mean, I had to come up with all sorts of stories to buy anything!”
“But perhaps it is not easier when I am clearly too big for the clothing, and that I have the ring on my finger and the photograph of the wife in my wallet? I have also brought your good black shoes, and, well…”
The great soft lump was blushing, and when he held out another package, I saw why. What is it about men and suspenders? So, well, I kissed him again.
The meal was a delight, and it turned out that not only was my darling remembered at the restaurant but he had actually been to university with the son of the owner, and a little reflection made me realise two things: how difficult it must have been to find a room and a meal on such a weekend, and how carefully he had worked out the whole affair. I mean, it wasn’t the George the Fourth, or whatever that place is called, or the Ritz, but it was ours. Hubby ordered what can only be called ‘stuff’ in Foreign, and it was very nice stuff, and there was enough of it, and there was dessert, and wine, and…
The jigsaw was solved almost as soon as we got back to the room, and again a couple of hours later, and again before we had our shower in the morning, and I thanked god I didn’t have to ride anywhere. Not just because of the tenderness, but because I was in such a state of blissful soppiness I would have been killed instantly in the Paris traffic. Every day I breathed would be a day I delighted in the man who had raised up a terrified transwoman and made her whole.
And of course that particular word just started me laughing again. Sod him and his le/la tour, I had my own jokes.
So off we went, this time in Sky shirts and leisure shorts, to a place near a Belgian television crew’s bus only 100 yards or so from the finishing line, and of course he had someone else he knew, and they knew someone in the Belgian bus, and bugger me if he hadn’t talked himself into a seat at the window, with the cool bag the cheeky sod had filled with sandwiches and champagne bottles, and, well, the noise began, and the publicity I remembered from British stages, and…
They call it a procession, but bloody hell was it! There were times, as the riders flashed past, where I expected eyeballs to burst from heads, but they kept going. This wasn’t for the race, for Wiggins had that sewn up, but it was for the stage, and there was one man I wanted to see, and that was Cav. Everything I had ever done with cycling was slow, steady. I got there, that was how I summed it up. I had watched his win on the final race stage before the time trial, and there had been an aerial view of the final sprint, and my mouth had dropped open at his acceleration and speed. This would hopefully also be his day.
They had a screen in the bus, of course, and we watched as much on there as we did out of the window, especially as the breakaway was hauled back, and I was rapt, wrapped in my man’s arms.
“This is it, my sweet. They come to the last kilometre”
There was a breakaway, and a good one, but they were hauled back, eventually, as we watched the footage from in the race car, team strategists all but begging the boys to haul it in, and Wiggins was there, as the train pulled ahead, doing more than a champion normally did at the front, and then he flicked an elbow, and dropped to one side, and then another, and suddenly there was Cavendish, so far away still, and he was really flying. My gaze went from the screen to the window as my eyes finally showed me what my head had found hard to believe, as he went past more like a Manx Norton than a human being.
There was a podium, and presentations, and flowers, and wild animal sex (some hours later, at least for the two of us) but what lived in my memory was simply the courtesy of the overall champion to a team mate. A real champion, in so many ways.
Just like my Greg.
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