What’s the most elegant place you’ve ever had a panic attack?
A week or two ago Jeanne’s cousin, Amelie, came to stay for a few days. She lives in Paris and maintains nuclear reactors for a living – she showed me photos of glowing blue chambers and enormous control panels with lots of golden wiring, and she spent a long time explaining precisely what her role was while I nodded at her and idly wondered whether I might have been a nuclear engineer had I tried harder in school. In an effort to find common ground I asked her if she had seen the series Chernobyl on Sky Atlantic. She had not.
A curfew was introduced in France a couple of weeks ago; between 6am and 9pm nobody is allowed out on the streets, on pain of a 135 euro fine. Of course the French simply ignore this curfew, because they are French and they do what they like. For an Englishman such as myself, however – someone who will have an anxiety attack over whether or not it’s legal to walk down a street with a single cone abandoned in the middle of it – the last evening before the curfew meant one thing: one last chance to get absolutely binned in public.
Amelie took us to a shots bar, which is an institution I was not aware existed. I don’t know what the vibe in the bar is under normal circumstances, but in COVID times it was a like a scene cut from Blade Runner for being overly-dystopian. Filtered inside by two enormous bouncers clad in black facemasks, we distributed hand sanitiser in the foyer before ducking beneath a curtain into a narrow neon chamber filled with pumping music. The removal of your facemask is prohibited therein, except for during the consumption of a shot. The bar – a long, curved thing with a low ceiling – had a giant glass screen around all the way around it, with a small four-inch gap at the bottom, under which the dancing barman would slide shots. All the customers seemed to be about five foot two, as well. No idea why; I doubt it was part of the gimmick, they just were. I felt enormous.
Inside we met a gaggle of girls Amelie knew from somewhere or other – everybody was speaking French at a rate that rendered me effectively deaf – and they gleefully bought us shot after shot, handing wads of cash over to the barman. One shot had ice cream in it. One was set on fire. There was one shot which, to the best of my understanding, you had to drink through a straw while your friends smack your bottom with a wooden paddle. Jeanne had gone out for a smoke and I didn’t fancy being spanked by an assembly of strangers, so I went for a tactical wee and stood milling around in the toilets until it felt safe to emerge once again.
After fifteen minutes and four or five shots, we gave some cash to one of the girls and left. Stumbling home, we bought a round of beers in plastic cups from a bar doing last orders, and by the time we arrived back at Rue de Bitche I felt pleasantly sauced and rather content, proud of an evening well spent. The girls went to bed then, and I thought hey – I’m not really tired. Why not have a nightcap? Why not, ey? What a fun cheeky chappy I am. And I went to the fridge and took out a beer and sat down in front of the Playstation to play God of War.
After beheading a few monsters I glanced over at my glass, and was shocked to find it completely empty. How odd. I didn’t remember picking it up even once. I paused the game, went to the fridge, popped open a new bottle and sat back down on the beanbag. I slew a dragon, found some treasure, then picked up my tumbler and one more found it drained. Huh. With a shrug I struggled up out of the beanbag and took another drink. This continued until the fridge was bare, and I found that my on-screen avatar – usually a warrior of extreme prowess – had become clumsy and overly aggressive, windmilling blindly into crowds of enemies only to be clubbed unconscious, or attempting to dodge an arrow and instead cartwheeling into a ravine. Finally I shut off the console and schlepped through into the bedroom. Bed was warm and cosy, and I smiled to myself as I felt the ease with which a deep sleep was approaching. What a lovely time. What a pleasant, pleasant existence 🙂 ❤️
I woke up six hours later feeling absolutely shite and hating myself. The girls had been up hours already, and were sitting in the living room sipping mugs of tea and watching birds of paradise dance for David Attenborough on Planet Earth. I’d slept in, and I barely had time to gasp my way through a glass of water before I was dragged out into the blinding sun of an autumnal afternoon, ready for some sightseeing.
I coped reasonably well for the first couple of hours; we took a stroll past Jeanne’s old college (it looks like Hogwarts, so so pretty, oh my god) and ate some noodles from a Thai takeaway, then ambled along the river past the old beautiful homes of the old town. Then we went for a coffee… and that was the beginning of my downfall.