Claudine

It was September 1980; we had just finished our A-levels and were about to embark on our university education. Along with 4 other friends, I took the opportunity to go camping in the South of France for two weeks. We stayed in a small resort called Sanary-sur-Mer not far from Toulon, more precisely at Portissol Beach. This is what the beach looks like today, but back in 1980 there was a lot less going on, and instead of holiday chalets next to the beach, there was a huge campsite.

Sanary-sur-mer Portissol

On a warm evening during the first week, I joined two of my mates for a few beers in a local bar (or it could have been some very cheap white wine, I can’t quite remember!). We strolled back to the campsite in the moonlight and noticed some French boys messing about with a football on the beach, so we popped down to introduce ourselves and hopefully have a kick-around. It became apparent that it was not an organised event and that they were all basically trying to impress a girl who was watching them while sat up against the wall.

The boys were probably around 16 years old, the girl with them was 18 as I found out later; one of the boys was her younger brother. They viewed us with some trepidation as we approached and they quickly closed ranks. The girl shouted “Hello” to us, so we went to join her. She was called Claudine and was the proud owner of a pair of beautiful big brown eyes, long and curly jet-black hair, and an infectious smile. Although a little on the short side, there was definitely something about her that made us quickly realise why those younger boys were out to impress, but making themselves look like immature idiots in the process.

We were able to have a laugh thanks to a mix of Claudine’s broken English and mutual sign language. If this chance encounter was a race for her affections, then it’s fair to say I was leading the race. The reason was not due to my good looks or my intelligence, of course. One of my mates was much better looking, and the other was far more intelligent. Now I’m definitely not saying that the brainy one was not attractive, nor am I saying that the handsome one was thick as mince, but if you swapped over those traits to create two separate people, they would both be dangerous. No, the reason why I was leading the race was that I was the only one who had a GCE ‘O’ level in French and I could manage simple communication when spoken slowly.

My friends decided to join the French boys in a game of football leaving me to chat to the lovely Claudine. Things were progressing nicely, in fact, she had raised the subject of skinny-dipping, but then things took a seriously bad turn. Two policemen arrived on the beach, and it was evident they weren’t messing about. They spoke no English, and their French was so fast I could not understand what they were saying. Claudine did her best to translate; it transpired that we were breaking the law by being on the beach after dark. The cops didn’t seem too concerned with Claudine and the French boys, they were more focused on the three English holidaymakers.

Claudine said, “let me talk to them”, and she walked about 20 paces away with the two policemen. After chatting to them for two or three minutes, she returned with an explanation. With the two cops leaning against a railing a short distance away, Claudine said that they would allow our French friends to go home if they went straight away, but we were given an ultimatum. If we agreed to meet them at the local bar near the top of the hill the following evening when they were off-duty, then they would not arrest us; if we did not agree, then they would take us down to the local station and charge us.

At this point, we looked across at the ‘gendarmes’ in an entirely different light. What did they look like? Take a look at this picture of the Village People.

The-Original-Village-Peop-001

Now try to imagine the guy on the right, wearing the uniform of the guy on the left. I hope you now understand the position between a rock and a hard place that we found ourselves in. We obviously didn’t want to get arrested, so we agreed to meet them in the bar the following evening. Claudine went across to tell them, and without a word of a lie, the more senior cop blew a kiss at us. Holy crap! Claudine came over to me, planted a kiss on my cheek and said goodbye. I never saw her again.

Did we go to the bar the following evening? We most certainly did not.

Did we return to the beach on any of the remaining evenings of our holiday? Not on your Nellie!

Looking back at this incident almost 40 years later, I’m now starting to think they may have been joking with us but I would not bet my mortgage on it.

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20 Degrees of Separation

I recently had a ‘light bulb moment’, not about light bulbs, but about toilet paper. [Now there’s a sentence that I’m willing to bet has never been written before!]

Before I explain my idea, it is important to clearly state one major assumption that this blog post relies entirely upon. When toilet paper is used, two sheets are stripped from the roll and folded across the perforations in the centre. This has already ruled out any interest from one of my daughters who, after wondering why my toilet paper expenses were so high, I discovered wiped herself by taking about 12 sheets and wrapping it around her entire fist for fear of having to touch any of her own undesirable matter.

This is a diagram, to scale, of two sheets of toilet paper, the black line down the middle indicating where the perforations are.

Paper 0 degrees

When folded evenly, I can tell you that the length is 12.3 cm and the width is 10.2 cm, resulting in a total surface area of 125.46 square cm. It occurred to me that it is not necessary that the whole of that surface area needs to be a double-sheet thickness, but you still need that security of the bulk of the area being thicker. Can you tell I’m desperately trying not to be crude in my descriptions here?

Here is my idea. Instead of creating those perforations perpendicular to the paper edge, why not cut them at an angle? 20 degrees from that perpendicular seems perfect to me, as per the diagram below, again drawn to scale. The cutting process should alternate between a 90-degree perpendicular cut and a 20-degree cut (this is actually 70 degrees from the paper edge).

Paper 20 degrees

This is what the shape looks like then the paper is folded using the angled perforations.

Paper 20 degrees folded

The dark blue area is double thickness, and the pale blue sections represent single sheet thickness. If you hold the paper by the folded edge, then the single sheet parts are situated on the outer edges of the “action areas”. I have calculated using the formula for determining the area of a triangle (0.5 x base length x height) that this configuration of the end shape increases the surface area by 39 square centimetres. That’s a whopping 31.09% extra surface area, created by simply cutting perforations at a 20-degree angle!

Now, if you were Mr Andrex and you were presented with this idea, would you:

  1. Market it as a gimmick,
  2. Market it as an innovation that provides over 30% more efficiency,
  3. Cut the volume of paper used per sheet and therefore reduce raw material costs while still providing the same useful surface area?

I suspect I know the answer.

Unsung Hero

My daughter, Bethany, told me a story about something good she did at work, but circumstances dictated that she was unable to claim any credit for it. It reminded me of a rugby league story which I’ve since recounted a few times.

I used to play rugby for Sunderland in the mid-1980s. We played a friendly match against Clayton ARLFC in Bradford and afterwards, 5 Sunderland players were asked if we would like to join the Clayton team on a short tour to the South of France to play two matches in Toulouse. We were not really part of the Clayton team but we were welcomed anyway, and made lots of friends. At this point, I could tell you stories of some of the events of that memorable trip, including:

  • a drunken visit to the Pernod factory,
  • indescribable mass seasickness on the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry,
  • the time I fell asleep in a French café/bar and awoke with my right arm completely clean-shaven,
  • trout fishing,
  • getting lost in Auterive and having to blag a lift back to our base using translation skills gained from my French language O-level,
  • an England v France size contest (I’ll leave it to your imagination to determine what was being measured, suffice to say the little French scrum-half won after the English prop-forward quickly admitted defeat before having to remove his trouser belt).

Clayton ARLFC

This particular story is about one of the best moments I’ve ever had on a rugby pitch. In a tough game played in blistering heat, the score was 20-20 with less than a minute to play. Our French opponents were in possession, virtually on their own line, but in a final display of Gallic flair they whizzed the ball out to their left-winger who cut through our defence and went flying down the touchline. I was the only Clayton player who made an effort to chase. With every stride I was slowly gaining ground and, after a 90m run, we arrived at our try-line together. He glanced across at me and put in a full scale dramatic dive into the corner to claim the match-winning try. I did the same thing, smashed him in mid-air with every ounce of energy I had left and managed to dislodge the ball and prevent him scoring. The final whistle blew immediately afterwards.

The French winger and I gathered our breaths back – or as the Australians call it, “sucked in the big ones” – we shook hands, helped each other off the ground and joined our teammates at the other end of the pitch in an act of cross-channel, end-of-match camaraderie.

Back in the changing rooms, all the players were buzzing; no one had expected us to even get close to the French team, let alone leave the match with a draw. I’ll never forget the moment that our captain was talking to all the senior players in the team and said “What a fantastic match, but who made that crunching tackle at the end to stop them scoring?” No one said anything; inside my head, my brain was screaming “Tell them, tell them it was you”, but I didn’t. I thought in that moment that I would come across as a needy little nerd in a team of relatively tough rugby players, so I opted to sit there in silence.

Did I do the right thing? I’m not sure, even to this day.