I enjoyed sharing my experiences in the SILH series so I thought I’d write a little more (narcissism? Hmmm) Anyway, I had returned to Jersey after the Spanish adventure SILH (1to 8) and I met a very pretty girl, so that was me, always a sucker for a pretty face. We got on well for a couple of years, but I’m not doing the whole break up thing. I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing many beautiful women, some married me and some didn’t. I have no excuses, no remorse, no animosity and as far as I’m aware we’re still friends. Alone and forlorn I found a friend, Ken (no he wasn’t plastic). He had escaped a jealous boyfriend (don’t date girls whose boyfriends are in prison) a car chase and a shotgun in Manchester.
One drunken night we decided to join the Foreign Legion.Now, once I have an idea I believe it has been written, I probably would have made a good Bedouin. So I called the French Foreign Legion and they said no English until April, this was June, so we went anyway. We spent several days in France walking, hitch hiking and asking politely, “Where is la Foreign Legion mate?” my French from school extended as far as “Mme Tibou a acheté un nouveau chapeau.” ‘Mrs Tibou has bought a new hat,’ it wasn’t helpful. One day we met a friendly shopkeeper and with a series of hand signals and despite her laughter we established the phrase we so badly required. “Où est la Légion étrangère s’il vous plaît?” We decided to get a train to Paris.
I do not recommend walking through the streets of Paris asking, “Où est la Légion étrangère s’il vous plait?” In the early 80’s there was a certain stigma attached to young men wanting to join the Foreign Legion and so people shook their head and hurried away, leaving us baffled. Sometime later as the tumbleweed blew by, an old man pointed us in the right direction and explained many people who join the Foreign Legion are on the run from the law and not escaping a false accusation as portrayed in Beau Geste. At least the gate lived up to the reputation.
I knocked on the door (really). A small hatch slid open to reveal quite the most fearsome face I had ever seen. “Oui?” He grunted. I politely asked the face if he spoke English and the hatch closed. At this point we considered running away, but decided to stick it out and eventually the great doors opened and we were escorted to some seats whereupon man mountain said “Wait” (I think) he definitely grunted something. As we waited young men kept appearing with sticks which they hit into their hand in a most aggressive manner. I presumed they were trainee Legionaries or maybe on work experience, but eventually we were rescued by Corporal Yarring, a Cockney time served Legionnaire. He explained that they were full and could we come back tomorrow? He asked us if we had any money as he didn’t want us sleeping rough and that we may find it hard to get a hotel as the Paris Air Show was on. He then told us not to believe articles in the newspaper and that they don’t break recruits limbs or bury them up to their neck in sand. I wasn’t aware of said articles but felt some relief all the same. We were told to report back at around ten thirty and sent away, a little bemused. We found a hotel which could be described as ‘seedy’ if you consider stepping over two drunken prostitutes in the doorway as ‘seedy.
Upon our return the next morning Corporal Yarring explained all the new recruits had been shipped out to Marseille the night before, so now there was room for us. He promptly took all our belongings and clothes and gave us some ‘combat greens’ to wear, which strangely enough were ex US Army. A day later we were ushered into an office where a high ranking officer explained some ‘stuff’ to us and we signed a five year contract. So our adventure had begun. Our first job was to place huge rocks around the tennis court as a sort of feature, so far this Foreign Legion malarkey semed OK. Things have changed during the past forty years I guess Legion Etrangere (this is their Facebook page) 🙂 Next week, ‘Off to Marseille.’ 🙂