(aka – spinning down a dangerous river in France)
It wasn’t until I found myself gripping a hotdog in the middle of a river that I realised a few simple facts: rocks are hard; hotdogs are soft; my friend couldn’t steer a Tesco’s trolley up the beans and ravioli isle and French people don’t like us much.
How was it that I came upon these revelations?
I’ll start with the most apparent. The chant of ‘You English are stupid’ as a crosscurrent swept us down a steeply inclined river seemed easy to understand. We were in the Morvan National Park in Central France, and we (two English gentlemen) were twirling at an alarming rate amid a rabid froth, so the statement seemed fair.
It was the brochure’s fault: a collection of superlatives sprinkled among laughy, splashy, foamy scenes had done it. Sadly, the pieces of honed flint slicing up the water had been carefully air-brushed from the photographs, giving the river a false cuddly, fluffy feel.
It was too late now. Our hotdog, need I say, was out of control.(from the side our two man raft looked similar to a … hotdog only blue, it’s a technical term). As we spun, the guide in front, ensconced within a large, well protected, eight berth raft, shouted over something about several dangerous areas and to stay right at ‘Dead Man’s Fall’. Dead–Man’s–Fall? – that was not highlighted to us in the brochure. I remembered words like: ‘great day out’ and ‘incredible fun’; there was no Dead Man’s Fall.
We began to protest as a surge swept us down river, our paddles as useful as three day old baguettes. Around us the river resembled a pan of boiling spuds. The spuds being greyer, sharper and a little more chewy. I prayed my teeth wouldn’t get the chance to try one.
As our speed increased, all I could see was alternate river banks. I looked back at the Steve Redgrave-like figure behind me, paddling furiously. Was it spray or was he crying? This is when I questioned my friend’s (and, okay, my own) navigational abilities. It was a river; there was only so many directions you could go and we’d already done them all. Before I could cry out, this moment of circuitousness revealed the final revelation: the inflexibility of rock and the malleability of hotdogs.
A rock smashed into the front of the boat, and the inflatable bow of our hotdog crumpled. The cushioning effect was supplied courtesy of my kneecap and the cartilage and ligaments beneath. The headbut from blubbering Steve, behind me, diverted the pain, as did the follow up scraping of hip with jagged granite. The discomfort was further deflected and heightened by pantomime Gallic laughter down stream.
‘Exhilarating’ – it had said.
‘Try to avoid the rocks,’ the instructor called from his inflatable cruise liner. Good advice, if only he’d said…
Flogging your limbs against hard surfaces focuses navigational skills. We found that the river was better at this than us; by keeping with the strongest current we were able to pass the hardest of the boulders, only nudging a few soft ones here and there. The paddles, we used for steering only. Genius, I know, and so did they as the ‘You English are stupid’ calls began to reduce in enthusiasm. Perhaps the brochure had been right after all.
‘One coup de foudre after another’ – it had rightly said.
With new found mastery, we meandered through the white water, sliding down cascades and twisting through rock chicanes, a human hotdog hybrid, indivisible, a cohesive threesome, missing only the mustard and bread rolls. For a mile we followed the racing line faultlessly (don’t believe anyone who says that it was the easy bit), but we had to go and do it didn’t we, we just had to, that fatal flaw of every young Englishman: excessive self-satisfaction. We heard ourselves shout: ‘Hey, you Frenchies, look no paddles,’ and slapped our oars together above our heads in a high five.
The river groaned inwardly.
‘Be careful, Dead Man’s Fall….’ The instructor was pointing down to where the water ended abruptly, replaced by sky. ‘Stay right, like I told you. You understand. Stay on the right.’ Their raft slid casually to the right and the current swept us left and accelerated us down a few small drops. We tried to compensate by thrashing around frantically (another technical term) until we realised we were going backwards. A huge rock in the shape of a gargoyle gave us a contented smile on our way passed as we were smugly swept over the edge. The last time I had been airborne with an hotdog was an Airtours package deal to Cyprus. I enjoyed it even less this time.
‘Uplifting, you will soar’ – every word of it was true.
In those moments of flight, my mind comforted me with visions of bobbing procumbent bodies with oozing dashed heads, surrounded by tomato soup and croutons.. I suppose we deserved it, you don’t mess with a fall full of dead men. With my eyes closed, I mentally thumbed through the list of people I would miss back home, and hoped for a sea burial to commemorate my achievements.
But as it happens, our prior smugness was fully justified. We were naturals. We had balance and poise, and the noise of the water hid our baby-like screams. We made a perfect landing, handbraked the vessel round and glided into the bay where the rest of the crowd were waiting.
There was a cheer. I blinked back my farewell tears, checked for limbs I remembered, and disembarked to a hero’s reception. ‘What? You’ve never done that with a triple salchow? Wimps.’
‘Deeply satisfying.’ Yep, the author of that brochure new his stuff.
To my knowledge, that section of the river is now call Smug Englishmen’s Fall, or maybe I lost something in the translation.