As an adolescent I got kicked out of Eden Park Stadium in New Zealand for throwing beer up into the terraces with mates during a Mexican Wave. As an adult, the same thing happened after I tried to fit in a quick slash against a Christchurch stadium wall moments before Eddie Vedder entered the stage during a Pearl Jam concert.
But it came as a surprise, having dived gracefully into the swimming pool in the mountain town of Roanne, when a lifeguard began pointing and shouting in my direction, moments after returning to the surface to gasp my next full breath of air.
In fact, my offence was deemed so great, that through partly fogged goggles, I could see him pulling from his belt, the lifeguard equivalent of a Taser – his whistle. Which, I quickly calculated from his stance and stare, he wasn’t afraid of using.
“Stop!” I yelled, before quickly switching to French “Arret, Arret!”
Carefully and slowly, without breaking eye contact, I raised both hands simultaneously in the direction of the circling hydroslide and began walking back towards the steps.
Now I’ve been a lifeguard myself. For three years during my nursing training I took a summer job at the local pools and came to understand, just how dangerous this tool of control can be. With one foul blow and a pointed finger, it can reduce even the strongest, noblest, bravest man to a humiliated wreck and already I could sense heads turning in my direction, even before the whistle had sounded. But it was poised.
I knew what I had to do, very carefully, I had to listen to his precise and clear instructions – only problem – they were all in French.
“Je ne comprende pas”, I protested at his animated explanation before he himself, resorted to a mime which included pulling down his shorts to pick at his speedos, whilst pointing to my saggy board shorts. His message was suddenly clear. No swimming allowed, unless wearing the lower tenth of a Borat-esque mankini.
I tried the dumb tourist trick. “Monsieur, I come from N.Z. Only elite athletes or models wear speedos. In fact, I seem to recall they were morally and socially outlawed from our country in 1998…..”
But no arguing could change the situation – probably because he couldn’t understand me. So off I set, heading back to the dressing room, only to be met by another lifeguard along the way who was waving a French flag… or was it?…..oh yes, it was…. a pair of…… speedos. My situation was grave. It was a real do or dry moment. Could I pull them on to pull it off?
Thinking ahead I was able to picture the group therapy session I’d end up taking at the end of this unexpected cultural experience…. “ My name is David Monk, I’m 35 years old, married, two kids, but this week… I…. I…publically wore another man’s speedos…”. But who really thinks about the future these days anyway. Isn’t that one of the bonuses of being a genXer.
Looking around, no one appeared bothered by my minor faux pas. The whistle had been returned to its holster, as had the crowd returned to their splashing, sliding, bombing and diving. With a skip down the corridor to the nearest changing rooms, I emerged moments later like a gladiator stepping into the coliseum ring, chest out, arms back, chin high.
But no one seemed to notice. I was part of the crowd now.