MADE IN FRANCE: A TALE OF THE NINETIES

The stationary car rocked with the force of the downpour. Mary-Louise, close to shock, wondered if the gravel underneath could simply disintegrate. Suddenly, a face was pressed to the window, Marcus’s face, but distorted by the cascade against the glass. She tried to wind the window down. No. It was broken too. And there was Marcus’s twisted face, mouthing something, like a goldfish in murk.

“It’s no good, Marcus. I can’t open it. I…CAN’T…OPEN…IT!”

She gestured to him to walk round the car and just get in. Then she remembered he couldn’t. The driver-side door was broken. She opened her door slightly. The storm rushed at her. And Marcus was shouting something, but she could not hear against the gale and the crash of rain on metal…

***

But let’s go back to the sunny and tranquil morning of that Saturday, when it all began. Marcus and Mary-Louise were discussing in their cute little workman’s cottage, just back from the main strip in Leichardt.

“So, are we agreed? If something is made in France…”

“Or Israel!”

“That goes without saying, my love. So we’re agreed, are we not…”

“Marcus, if you were working for any of my client companies and called any woman ‘my love’…”

“Some things are personal to each relationship, ML. But I can see where you’re at. I work in a university department which is sixty-nine percent female, after all…”

“I think you meant sixty-nine percent women. Moreover, I doubt that women are earning sixty-nine percent of the incomes in Urban Environment.”

“Be that as it may…can we get back to the subject? I mean, we’re supposed to be the good guys…the good people, no?”

“I’m committed, Marcus. I’ve already had Beatrice Wayling make that remark about our little problem. Not that that’s central to the issue, but it shows that there’s a general awareness out there. I know I’m committed. If you’re committed too…”

“I’m committed, ML.”

“Good, we’re committed. So, game time!”

“ML, you’re sounding very ‘private sector’ lately.”

“Marcus, my employer, Wayling Consultants – in case you haven’t noticed from your academic cocoon – is bringing EO to the private sector, whether the private sector wants it or not. Logically, we have to talk the private sector’s language. And, Doctor Marcus Potts, understand that if I walked into a boardroom looking and talking like some professorial types…”

“Never mind, never mind…The important things is that we’re both absolutely committed, so it’s action stations – game time, as you say.

“It’s time to buy the Sydney Morning Herald!”

With that, the couple headed out the door of their achingly cute brick cottage, to their favourite espresso bar – but via the newsagent.

In 1995, all was still mostly well with Marcus Potts and Mary-Louise Gallagher, in spite of some recent tensions following Mary-Louise’s entry into the private sector.

The couple, though they attended the same university, had first met at anti-nuclear rallies in the eighties. As Marcus rose to be a senior lecturer in the since renamed department of Urban Studies, Mary-Louise, after completing an Arts course with a major in psychology, decided to begin anew as a mature student in the exciting new Faculty of Gender Ethics. The couple had bought their Leichardt cottage in the slump of the early nineties. In spite of high interest rates, Marcus’s increasing income allowed the couple to just cover their mortgage while Mary-Louise probed ever deeper into her chosen field of study.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not? – tensions arose when Mary-Louise was headhunted by the extraordinary Beatrice Wayling, founder and principal of Wayling Associates. It is proverbial that Wayling Associates brought Equal Opportunity into the corporate and managerial mainstream in Australia. It was Beatrice Wayling who first saw that major government contracts and patronage could be tied to a company’s willingness to accept guidance on EO from recognised experts – such as Beatrice. It was Bea Wayling who forged numerous essential political friendships and contacts, from Canberra elites to the humblest rural council or urban Labor Party Branch. Of course, there were critics who whined that the quality of a company’s EO was measured by its wealth and willingness to pay Wayling Associates the hundreds of thousands which it charged for their services. To give the lie to such carping, the adaptable and far-seeing Bea Wayling had, among other measures, recruited Mary-Louise Gallagher for the very purpose of researching and developing a medium-cost EO consultancy aimed at small business.

Our couple’s combined incomes soon allowed them to restore their little brick cottage, not just closer to its original state but even to a glory it perhaps never had. As they declared to friends, Sydney’s inner-urban and working class heritage was, for them, on a par with the most precious stand of surviving rainforest. While few of their highly educated friends could go so far, the couple were acknowledged as true urban curators, rather than property-obsessed Sydneysiders.

Yet Mary-Louise had begun to let her work and new associations intrude on her marriage in tiny ways. A mild criticism of Marcus’s habit of wearing socks with leather sandals on weekends, the unwanted gift of some Dunhill cologne (by appointment to HRH!), the occasional praise of some corporate male as “stylish” or “decisive”…these were things not meant to provoke Marcus, but provoke they did. Mary-Louise was given to uttering “Get real!” “Wake up and smell the coffee!” and even talked of “own-goals” and “letting things go through to the keeper”.

Yes, there were times when Marcus was tempted to accuse Mary-Louise of a lapse into “yuppiness”. But so grave would be the accusation, he never said it. Marcus, on the other hand, seemed to inhabit a remote past of mid-century radicalism where women had only graduated from water fetchers to earth mothers. If truth be told, Marcus and his ilk would be flayed if they ever came under the scrutiny of Wayling Associates. In fact, Beatrice Wayling was working on a “white-hot, hyper-aggressive” program of EO for academia, to be implemented as soon as she could find ways to make its institutions budget for her elaborate services. Alas, Marcus simply would not, as it were, wake up and smell the coffee. He needed to get real.

But their most urgent problem was parked in the small carport beside their cottage. It was very yellow. No, not the carport or the cottage. The cottage was pure heritage, all dark liver-brick. The carport was “sympathetic” Autumn Dusk Colourbond.

But that yellow object inside the carport!

How did it happen? Some years before, still in her student phase, Mary-Louise had seen the quirky, progressive mayor of North Sydney driving his antique Citroen. At the time, it was such a contrast to the “soulless monsters” and “yuppiemobiles” thronging Sydney’s streets in the eighties. The purchase of a well preserved Citroen was the result: a yellow, unmissable Citroen DS. And it was parked in full view, by the side of their cherished workman’s cottage, in Leichardt.

Why the embarrassment?

You see, it was 1995. The French were nuking Mururoa. Jacques Chirac was suddenly the most hated man south of the equator. In our own backyard, it was happening. A mere eight thousand kilometres from us, the French were nuking our Pacific.

And what is more painfully and blatantly French than a yellow Citroen DS?

_

So it was that Marcus and Mary-Louise had their uneasy conversation on that Saturday morning. As they headed off down the road toward Leichardt shops, they could hardly bear to glance at the yellow lump of accusation that had once filled them with such pride.

_

Marcus had ordered his soycino, Mary-Louise had her usual skinny latte decaf. Now they began the perusal of the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, to find some kind of alternative to the car-yards of Parramatta Road who had all but rejected them on the previous weekend.

The sight of Marcus hunched over the Herald and stroking his beard sagely was yet another marital irritant for Mary-Louise, but this time she said nothing.

“Looks interesting, ML. This looks very interesting! It’s…some kind of rural dealership, but not far out of town. It’s near Wiseman’s Ferry. Listen to this. They do European makes…Citroen parts…trades on all euro models…open all weekends…lower overheads…”

Meanwhile, Mary-Louise had produced her hefty Motorola mobile and thrust it at Marcus.

“Time to step up to the plate. Ring now, Marcus. Let’s just do it.”

“You sound like a Nike commercial…”

“Marcus!”

“How do I start dialling this thing…?”

“Give it here!”

_

After some city traffic, the trip to Wiseman’s had been pleasant.

The car-yard turned out to be a large rural property, on rolling hills in view of the Hawkesbury, with some horses and goats grazing. Away from the main house was a large metal shed, and many cars parked in and near it.

Marcus honked the horn of his Citroen, and a friendly older gentleman emerged waving from the house, which was almost posh in a mock-Mediterranean style. He gestured to them to proceed over to the shed, which they did.

They got out and began to survey the other cars, presumably all there for trade or sale. The owner soon joined them. He was an elegant older type, silver hair and olive skin, with a flashing grin.

“Hello there. My name’s Paul, but call me Paolo, if you like.”

“Paolo is beautiful. We actually live in Leichardt. You…you’re Italian?”

“I’m definitely Italian when I see a lady like you…But what’s this gorgeous machine you’ve got? A DS?”

“Yes. All log books. Perfect maintenance. We have this Argentinian mechanic who…”

“Oh, I can see that. Lovely old thing. Suspension like a dream, I’ll bet.”

“Oh, absolutely. And this one has the reindeer hide seats. I keep the cream up to the leather…”

“Lovely. Just lovely. And what brings you two folk out to the back blocks of the Hawkesbury.”

Marcus was a little surprised.

“Well… we rang earlier. I think it was your son who spoke to us. He said you might be interested in a trade…”

“My son? You’d think he could have told me. Young blokes…I dunno.”

“So…you’d be interested?”

“Well…”

Silence and little headshakes.

“Weeeell, I might have been interested three months ago. And I’d love to help. But I’ve got old Renaults and Pugs, good cars too, and how can I move them? Since those bombs went off, nobody will be seen dead in a French car. You must know how it is. I dunno…I dunno…a later DS in perfect nick…and nobody will want it. Are you sure you really need to sell?”

“Well, we, er, work in, um, ethical fields – I mean, in fields where ethics are a priority. We’re actually hoping to be part of an effective boycott of French goods, if you know what I mean…”

“I know exactly what you mean. Bloody Jack Chirac! Letting off atom bombs near where Aussies swim. If any of that crap gets into the Hawkesbury…”

“Well, it’s on at atoll about eight thousand kilometres away, so you should be okay.”

“How do we know? Look what they did to Kennedy. And Gough! Let me think for a moment…I dunno, you two young people are out to do the right thing. Not much of that around these days. Maybe I can help you. Just don’t tell anyone. They’ll say I’ve gone soft in the head. Let’s have a glass of vino first. I’ve got a cousin grows and crushes his own. Maybe we can do a little business.

“Jack Bloody Chirac!”

_

Paul Menotti was still waving as they turned their newly acquired Volvo off his gravel drive on to the road.

“Charming guy. Quite stylish in as sort of…well, Godfather way.”

“Who’s stereotyping now?…Though I’m a bit concerned how the door got stuck. He didn’t seem too concerned.”

“Marcus, we can buy some WD40 tomorrow. As he said, it’s just some moisture that got in while the car was unused. Mind you, the ride seems a little rough. ”

“Well, it’s not a Citroen. As Paolo said, people make Volvo jokes because they’re made solid and safe as a priority. We’ll get used to the ride.”

“Mmmm, I’m about one-sixteenth Swedish, did you know?”

Mary-Louise’s Motorola brick-phone began to shrill.

“Hello. Mary-Louise Gallagher. Oh, hi, Beatrice. No, we’re actually in the country. Just a drive. Oh, it’s not as bad as that! And what are you doing? Really? Peters of Kensington? With Nigel? Lovely. Really? No. No. We don’t need a dinner service right now. Okay. ‘Bye.”

Mary-Louise’s face had darkened during the call from her boss. Marcus, meanwhile, was driving with an equally dark expression.

“This…steering seems…different. I wonder if it needs tightening…”

“Bitch!”

“What? Who’s a bitch?”

“Beatrice Wayling, that’s who! Asks me what I’m doing. Well, I’m not going to tell her straight out that I’m ditching my car because of some bitch remark she made. So I say I’m going for a drive and she tells me off for burning hydrocarbons as a recreation…”

“Well, I can see where she’s at with that…This steering is all wrong!”

“Marcus, do you know what she and Nigel are doing today? Do you know where they’ve gone in their hydrocarbon burning Eunos? They’re at Peter’s of Kensington! There’s a sacrifice sale on Cristofle dinner settings. Marcus, that hungry bitch is buying French tableware at nuclear test discounts while we’ve been out here…’

“This steering…”

“Money-hungry bitch! And she’d be giving Chirac a head-job right now if there was a contract in it for Wayling Associates!”

Mary-Louise sat fuming in silence while Marcus continued his puzzled wrestle with the steering.

“Marcus. I am making a vow. Here and now. I will never buy anything French…”

“Or Israeli…”

“Marcus, shut up and hear me. I will never buy anything French ever again. If it’s given away, I won’t take it. I will not be a Bea Wayling for anything. You can do what you like but…”

“No, no. I agree. Never again. Nothing French. Ever again…This steering…”

At that moment, the car’s motor cut out.

_

The stranger shook his head as he examined the motor. Then he seemed to fix on something and pause. A few minutes later, he had pulled off the distributor cap and showed it to Marcus and Mary-Louise.

“This looks like the main problem. Cracked, burnt-out, corroded. Hate to think what else is going on with this motor…with this whole car, in fact. How long have you had it.”

“We…only just bought it.”

“Today? Where from? Not from Froggy?”

“No. It was from an Italian gentleman. He has a property back along the road…”

“An Italian? What name?”

“Menotti.”

“Froggy Menotti? You bought a car from Froggy?”

“Is…that what they call him? Froggy?”

“How much did you pay him?”

“Seven thousand…”

“Seven…”

“With a trade-in.”

“Wait a minute, mate. Are you telling me you gave Froggy seven thousand dollars plus a car? For…for this thing?”

“Is there something wrong?”

“Jesus, what would I know? Here I am driving an egg-truck on the weekend, and there’s Froggy going back to the south of France every winter. Who’s the smart one?”

“South of…France?”

“Yeah, the Menottis have got property there. And family.”

“But, are we talking about Paul Menotti? He said he was Italian…”

“He says a lot of things, Froggy. Probably doesn’t want to be French right now. What with Jack Chirac and all that nucular caper. I mean, nu-cul-e-ar. I never know how to say that.”

“Marcus, we need to get real. I’m not letting this go through to the keeper. Let’s go back and demand our money There must be some sort of cooling off…”

The stranger with the egg truck raised his hand to make a chopping motion.

“Wait, luv. Don’t you go anywhere except home, that’s if you can get hold of a distributor cap. If you go back to Menotti’s now you’ll find a locked gate and some mean Ridgebacks prowling. And Froggy’s got an arsenal. Stood for deputy leader of the NSW Shooters Party. Except they wouldn’t have him. You won’t win any arguments with that bastard.”

“Shooters Party? He said he was in the Labor Party…knew Gough…said they were friends in Cabramatta. That’s what he told us. Didn’t he say that, Marcus?”

The stranger just shook his head despairingly.

“You can try stopping the check when you get home. But don’t go there now.”

“But…we paid in cash. We brought cash…thought it would help to negotiate…”

More despairing head-shakes by the stranger.

Negotiate…Are you people from the university or something like that?”

“Something like that…why?”

“I dunno. My daughter wants to go to uni. I’ve got my doubts…

“Look, you’re not in the NRMA, so you may be up for a hefty towing job – some time very late tonight, if you’re lucky. Best I can do is show you how to put a distributor cap on. It’s pretty simple. There’s a wrecker’s yard down the road a few miles. They won’t want to open up for you, but you can negotiate. You like doing that, so wave some dollars around and there’s a good chance they’ve got a match for your distributor cap. That’s probably where Froggy buys and sells a lot of his rubbish parts. Don’t mention Froggy and don’t argue over the price or you won’t get home tonight.

“I can drive one of you to the yard, but not back. I’ve got a full load of eggs to cart to Windsor. And the sky is looking mighty black, so we’d better hurry. That’s the best I can do for you…”

_

After Mary-Louise had waited an hour, the sky darkened, the claggy air smelt of rust. It was a brutal looking storm.

Big greasy drops thudded on the roof of the Volvo. As she wound up the window, the handle spun loose. Sure enough, when she tested to see if it would wind down again, nothing happened. The driver side door had refused to open when they stopped, so Marcus had been forced to clamber out by the passenger door. Since the car was a two-door hatch, she could only hope the driver side window and the passenger door would continue to function.

Now the rain fell in a dump. She thought of Marcus trying to get back on foot. Next came thunder that was a crack more than a crash, the worst kind of thunder. And now the rain fell like the car was under a waterfall…

She started to sob. For no reason, or several reasons, she bawled for the first time in years.

Which is where we began our story.

_

The stationary car rocked with the force of the downpour. Mary-Louise, close to shock, wondered if the gravel underneath could simply disintegrate. Suddenly, a face was pressed to the window, Marcus’ face, but distorted by the cascade against the glass. She tried to wind the window down. No. It was broken too. And there was Marcus twisted face, mouthing something, like a goldfish in murk.

“It’s no good, Marcus. I can’t open it. I..CAN’T…OPEN…IT!”

She gestured to him to walk round the car and just get in. Then she remembered he couldn’t. The driver-side door was broken. She opened her door slightly. The storm rushed at her. And Marcus was shouting something, but she could not hear against the gale and the crash of rain on metal…

She eased open the door a little more, but it tugged against her like an animal. She began to slide across her seat so Marcus could get in, but he stayed where he was and just shouted something.

“Marcus, what are you waiting for? Get in!”

“No, I had to talk…”

“What? Marcus, get in! Have you got the thing?”

“Not yet, I have to go back for it. Had to talk to you…”

“Marcus, what happened?”

A mighty gust nearly shut the door, and his words were muffled.

“Marcus, I can’t hear! Just get in…”

“No, I’ll soak everything. The Volvo…it’s got a Renault motor! Renault! The distributor cap…”

“Marcus get in!”

“No, I can go back for it, if we agree…”

“Marcus, we need it! Don’t worry about the price! Now’s not the time…”

“But it’s…” His voice was lost again. “The cap… the distributor cap, it’s…”

“It’s what? Yell, so I can hear!”

“IT’S MADE IN FRANCE!”

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About mosomoso

Growing moso bamboo on the mid-coast of NSW, Australia.
This entry was posted in ON THE COMICAL SIDE. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to MADE IN FRANCE: A TALE OF THE NINETIES

  1. Beth Cooper says:

    From the cute little workman’s cottage now restored ‘even to a glory it
    perhaps never had,’ to the evolving attitudes ter EO, this reads like a
    ‘true’ story, mosomoso. đŸ™‚ Nice ending, I like ter see characters like these
    get their come-uppance fer a change, instead of acquiring the perks of
    insider employment, so-ter-speak.

  2. mosomoso says:

    Beth, I do have a relative who acquired a full set of Christofle at sacrifice rates during the French tests. When visiting Sydney, I’m often invited to dine on those very plates which, without Jacques Chirac, would carry a much humbler brand.

    I’m pleased you enjoyed. Not sure if satire is my thing, but thought I’d try some.

  3. Beth Cooper says:

    Satire is yer thing, mosomoso.

  4. Beth Cooper says:

    Jest been reading Wiki on ‘satire’ mosomoso. Didn’t know
    the two formal definitions, Horatian and Juvenalian Satire.)
    In general I’m not so drawn to the Juvenalian hot end of the
    spectrum, bit too abrasive and often Kinda obvious, in my
    view. Guess I’m more fer Jane Austin than Jonathon Swift.
    I’d say yer ‘Made in France’ is of the Horation genre, fer what
    that’s worth. I liked the underplayed satirical quality of the
    conversations like the remarks in comedy shows where the
    speaker’s fingers mime quotation marks:
    ML, you’re sounding very “private sector” lately.
    .
    .

    • mosomoso says:

      Yep, Horatian over Juvenalian. I get it. And Jane! I hope that’s not literature she writes, because I love her stuff. And yes, she’s satirist number one. Favourite is Persuasion, first read when I was about fifteen. I found her books more rivetting than all the Boys-own novels of the day. I could never finish a Biggles, but Austen? No probs!

      The other Eng lit (groan) author who stays with me is Shakespeare. He’s not some guy I “studied” once, he’s the guy I read for preference. Otherwise, what’s the point at this age? Before I wrote my story “The Play” I re-read every history except that dreary Henry VIII. I love the way Hotspur pays out on Glendower.

      But I’m glad you’re into Jane. I’m concerned that her renewed popularity will work against her…Jane…Horatian…I think you’ve nailed it, serf.

  5. Beth Cooper says:

    Persuasion, YES! How can a book so understated achieve such intensity,
    the dining room scene at the seaside and the letter writing event in Bath…
    I have to smile just thinking about Persuasion, mosomoso, and all that
    intense feeling from quiet little Anne Eliot. )

    I do love Pride and Prejudice too, because Elizabeth is such a charming and
    spirited heroine and Jane Austin does such nice satire on Mr Collins.

    I hafta say I reread Shakespeare too. I’ve tutored a fer Year 12 students and
    love revisiting the tragedies with them. Working with a Baccalaureat student
    I came across an excellent analysis essay, ‘The language of tragedy’ by
    Russ McDonald. Say I might reread it tomorrow.

    I once went to a theatre performance of The Tempest and I was almost
    overwhelmed by it, I quite forgot where I was. Thought I was on the island
    with Calaban )

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