The Isle de Re lies not far from La Rochelle on the west coast of France. These days it is connected to the mainland by a bridge but back in 1979 you got there by catching a ferry from La Pallice.
It was here in 1979 that two friendships came to an end…
My wife had rented a gite at Rivedoux Plage. The gite industry was in infancy and our place turned out to be a brand new modern bungalow. It was an absolutely brilliant destination; Ile de Re was not the popular place it has become today as it wasn’t easy to reach. We invited two long standing friends who were holidaying in France to join us for a few days. I shall call them Bob and Jean.
Bob was a colleague; he was without doubt the most meticulous man I have ever known. He had joined my financial company from the watch making industry where accuracy and precision were paramount. Everything about him and his job reflected that past. His clothes were always the very best; he was immaculately turned at all times – never a hair out of place. I am convinced he even had razor sharp creases down his Y-fronts.
His pride and joy was his car, a Lotus Europa. It was painted a deep metallic blue with a fine gold coach line. It was in better condition than the day it left the showroom and had won many awards at car shows.
On May 30th 1979 at 7.30pm I was waiting for him at the ferry point on the island as he was due to arrive by boat from the mainland. You might wonder how I can be so precise about the date and time from more than three decades ago. Well, English football club Nottingham Forest were playing in the final of the European Cup against Swedish champions Malmo. I was keen to watch it and had found a bar that would show it on TV that night. The ferry docked and I was surprised to see Jean struggling up the ramp carrying a couple of heavy suitcases. She was closely followed by the Lotus going very slowly.
It seems Bob was worried that the weight of his wife and the luggage would cause the car to scrape the ferry ramp and cause some damage. He eventually allowed her into the car but not until he had driven around the island for half an hour and found a high kerb so he could inspect the underneath of his beloved, the car that is, to make sure it was still pristine.
All this hoo-ha meant not only were we late for dinner but we also missed Forest winning the cup with a great goal from the legendary Trevor Francis. I took it well I felt, after all, we were on holiday.
The next morning we climbed into my car – a Citroen. The Lotus had been carefully parked in the drive. We drove a little way inland and at a beautiful little street market we bought baguettes, cheese and a big bag of oysters and langoustines for lunch. We also enjoyed a couple of glasses of Pastis before heading home.
Everything was going swimmingly, we were getting along very well. Bottles of wine were opened but I stuck to my favourite, pastis, whilst shucking the oysters for everyone. Alas, the sunshine and alcohol combined to make me a tad careless. Without warning the oyster knife slipped and buried its point in the fleshy part of my hand under the thumb.
The Pastis I had been enjoying went flying and landed with a thwack on the bonnet of the lotus. There it mixed with the jet of blood shooting from my hand and the juices from the open oysters and shellfish which, perhaps slightly foolishly, I had put on a plate balanced on the car’s bonnet.
Now, I am not a chemist but Pastis, oyster juice and blood when combined make for a pretty good paint stripper. It was with abject horror that we watched helplessly as the blue paint blistered and fell away from the car. Bob was by now hysterical, frantically wiping the car with a cloth which unfortunately made things worse – though I doubt his tears dropping into the mix helped very much…
Shouting at Jean to get the cases, he climbed into the car and they drove off at great speed, stopping just a few yards later to remove the oyster knife from the now deflated front tyre.
It was the last time we ever saw them. His resignation was on my desk when I returned from what was a great holiday. From time to time nearly 40 years later, I still see his car winning prizes at shows, though now it is blood red in colour!