It’s Saturday 2nd February 2013. February isn’t as dysmal as January, but it’s not far off. It wasn’t raining: That’s good; It was very cold: That’s bad. It was especially bad because I had been press ganged into taking the imp to the free swimming at the leisure centre. The changing rooms are cold, and I was feeling a bit flabby in the wake of Christmas. I used to be a bit of a health fascist – a veritable Oswald Museli, if you will – but things have been slipping of late. This morning, I’m nursing a bad pang of nosher’s remorse too. At the back of my mind I’m acutely consious of having inhaled almost half a (surprisingly not stale) festive panetone at about ten thirty last night. That after two pints of Larkins and a bag of sausage and mustard crisps… And I haven’t been for a death run for about three weeks. Still, as it happened, these assorted narcissistic neuroses needn’t have assailed me.
Unless you’re a doctor or an embalmer, you don’t often get the opportunity to study the common man in all his suety glory. That’s probably for the public good, but when you get the chance, it is morbidly fascinating. I don’t really subscribe to male vanity, as I may have said, but I do like to keep myself in some sort of order, just because you never know when you might get called up to fight in a European conflagration or pressed into service by Mi6. You just never know… Anyway, most of my fellow swimmers clearly hadn’t made such contingencies. Like most public pools in the UK, the impression was of unshaved, boiled pork floating in blue consomme. We’re not a pretty race.
Anyway, as I compared myself reasonably favourably with the other specimens of manhood, I started thinking about the French Foreign Legion. No, this isn’t going to be some Beau Travail style homoerotic flight of fancy… And certainly not in a municipal leisure centre… No. You see, I used to think about the Foreign Legion quite a lot, as it happens. However, this was the first time in some decades that it had entered into my consciousness. I remembered standing outside the recruitment office in Pau in about 1992. That was when I was still deciding between a career in bull fighting or mercenary soldiering – the Spanish Civil War having been over for 53 years, there was nothing for me there, you see.
Anyway, it was a tattoo that actually triggered this little jaunt down memory lane. One young dad had the badge of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers tattooed on his upper arm. That suddenly made me feel a bit like a forty year old man who was taking his daughter to a free swimming session at the public baths and had never really done anything momentous in his life – which was now ostensibly over, by the way… Now, I’ll get on to my general opinion about tattoos elsewhere, but this display did make me wish I had a tattoo saying, ‘Legion Etrangere’ on my taut and brawny bicep. That would be a lot more enigmatic. In fact, if I’d been in the REME, I’m not sure I’d even have their badge tattooed on my arm – SAS or Royal Marines yes, but REME? The prancing horse and the lightning bolt is arresting and dynamic, I’ll grant you, but it’s a bit over baked really, isn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t a spark plug and a socket wrench be more appropriate – if less impressive…? Anyway, the Foreign Legion tattoo would definitely trump it. I might even have sparked up a Gauloise and done a few lengths backstroke, belching blue smoke and singing Legion marching songs out of the corner of my mouth… Then the other Dads would know who was the Alpha Dog… Woof Woof!
I didn’t ever join the Legion, as it happens. Nor did I enrol in the Esceulo Tauromachia. In fact, I joined the Green Form Department of The Legal Aid Board instead, because my Dad said I needed to get a job. It didn’t have quite the same mystique or esprit, I’ll grant you, but how many satin clad bull fighters or sunburnt Legionaires can boast of having been responsible for settling solicitors’ disbursements sometimes amounting to up to £800? Hmm? I rest my case.