This blog imagines Beckham’s internal monologue as he collides with the Parisian intellectual tradition – the glittering surface of a footballing icon cracked open by existentialism. Golden boy deconstructed.
This thought experiment is by a lecturer in French philosophy at the University of Cambridge:
We were doing breakfast at Balthazar in Manhattan (‘Manhattan Beckham’? Nah, better stop at 4). And trying to sort out this problem très inquiétant.
It was almost like being back in Paris (hold on – ‘Paris Beckham’ – now there’s a thought). You half-expected to walk out on the boulevard Saint-Germain rather than Broadway. Eric was scoffing the pancake stack (soooo American now he’s manager of New York Cosmos). I was having the customary croissant and dunking it in my café au lait à la Proust.
‘Mais,’ says Eric, wrapping his chin in a penseur-style paw, ‘what is wrong with that? This obscure prof from the dreaming spires – who is also a surfer à ses heures perdues – in his tumblr blog he wants to understand Becks as a Parisian intellectual? Is that so bad? He interprets you as a philosophe, BecksinParis, adept of le zen camusien – tout ça, c’est joli, n’est-ce pas?’
‘It’s all right.’
‘Is it not just as when I – a mere Manchester midfield maestro and, of course, karate kid – was mistaken for a guru? A profound thinker? Just because I dare to employ the over-elaborate metaphor of the trawler and the seagulls and the sardines.’
‘Yeah, it’s a bit comma ça, I reckon. Even without all the fish.’ But Eric had missed the nub, from mon point de vue. ‘Écoute, mon vieux, here is the thing, I have this feeling – non, plus que ça, a conviction – that this salaud Andy Martin has actually hit the nail on the head. Oui,’ I added, just in case Eric was still not getting it, ‘il a mis le doigt dessus!’
‘Vraiment?’ Eric didn’t sound too convinced as he shoveled another pancake down his neck.
‘Isn’t it évident?’ I said, polishing off my baguette. ‘You reckon it’s easy having this image totalement superficial? I play football. I wear underpants. Et voilà tout. Idiot savant. Oh yeah, and bel homme. But a glittering surface only, with nothing underneath. Une peau, un pied, et puis le néant.’
‘Le bimbo, in short.’
‘Exactement, mon pote.’ Now Eric was getting it. ‘I am my haircut. It’s been a good persona. Brill. Served me well over the years. But now… this evil genius Andy Martin has seen right through me. I’ve been exposed. Suddenly, I have a brain. I have thoughts, I suffer the anguish of freedom, I am not just a Candide, putting it about that tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes. I am also Pascal, confronted by le silence éternel des espaces infinis. Like Sartre, I too want to cry out, l’enfer c’est les autres.’
Eric gives me that beady, beardy look of his, which was like being kicked in the goolies. ‘So you also fear la vérité?’
‘I was comfortable with my mask,’ says I, ‘Like an old dressing gown or sarong. I got used to it. And everyone else got used to it too. They liked it. What if nobody likes moi no more? Now I’ve become a bloody philosophe. I’ve gone all moody and contemplative, like. Like you.’
Eric shook his head. Violently. ‘Au contraire, they will love you more. Because they will see that you, après tout, you are not so special. Ça, c’est l’illusion. You are just like them. For they too, they think these thoughts, they have these feelings, they have l’angoisse de la liberté, comme toi. They will get it. BecksinParis, on t’ adore.’
Course, he was right, my old mucker Cantona. I had to give it to him. Like everyone else on the planet, I was a poet, I was a dreamer, always liable to fall down a well while looking up at the stars.
‘Manifestly,’ says Eric, ‘Andy Martin wants to be you. But – be honest with yourself, mon frère, mon semblable – is there not a little part of you that wants to be Andy Martin?’
I nearly choked on my freshly squeezed pamplemousse. But then I thought about it. ‘Eric, I don’t want to come over too Flaubertian,’ says I, ‘ but Andy Martin, c’est moi!’
I’d bought just about everyone else an Audi Q3. But apparently that wasn’t good enough for Sami, our team psych.
It was a nice gesture to come and see me off at Charles de Gaulle airport. ‘A Ferrari then? A nice red one. Très sportive!’
‘Lamborghini? The one with the gull-wing doors? Come on, everybody loves the gull wings!’
He just stood there shaking his head.
‘OK, OK, you win. You get the helicopter. Just a small one though. It’s that or nothing.’
‘Alors, je préfère… rien.’
Sami was an enigma. I couldn’t seem to tempt him. Maybe it was some kind of green thing, he was an eco-nut. ‘A bike then – with pedals! – one of those really light ones that virtually flies.’
‘I have already un vélo. Why would I need two?’
‘I give up!’ says I, exasperated.
‘Mon cher Becks,’ says he, wrapping a comradely arm round my shoulder. ‘I want nothing, I need nothing. The friendship, ça suffit. The conversation. You have shared your mind and your soul. L’immatériel. This is what matters. Matter does not matter.’
‘D’accord,’ says I. ‘A yacht! Last offer. You drive a hard bargain!’
Sami just smiled at me. One of his serene smiles. ‘You resemble Charles Fourier, the great utopian philosopher.’
‘Vraiment?’ says I, intrigued, never having heard of this dude before.
‘He had a vision of the ideal community of the future, which he called the phalanstère.’
‘I get it,’ says I. ‘Something to do with le phallus, n’est-ce pas? What was it – non-stop orgy? Like at the funeral of your Les Miz bloke?’
‘Etymologically, a mélange of phalanx and monastery, but yes there is beaucoup de bonking in Le nouveau monde amoureux. Fourier prophesies a society of public orgies, and mass adultery, and a sexual AA call-out service for emergencies. He called it “le minimum sexuel”’.
‘Sounds more like le maximum to me, mate!’ says I. ‘I might have to sit that one out on the bench.’
‘There would also be the Olympiques gastronomiques. With gold medals for the finest patisserie, awarded to the music of a thousand champagne corks popping.’
‘Mon Dieu, says I. ‘We ought to have that at this little LA eaterie they say I’m opening with Gordon. Or at my MLS club.’
‘But Fourier also counsels that we should not do any one thing for longer than two hours. Like a football match – with extra time. But no penalties! Karl Marx considered it parfaitement communiste. We plough the fields le matin and compose our symphonies or go fishing dans l’après midi.’
I was just about to go through security (yes, even I still have to take my boots and belt off! Moi!), but j’ai réalisé then that Sami had come up with the solution to the problem that had recently been perplexing me. ‘The gaffer phones and asks me if I want to be “ambassador” for Man U. And then the United Nations gives me a bell and invites me off to Timbuctoo or somewhere. And then blow me if Noel Gallagher doesn’t want me to sing in his new band – and write the songs for him!’
‘Vraiment?’ says Sami (did he sound just a bit impressed?)
‘Not to mention my old mucker, Tom Cruise. Says he can get my “sexy-ass face” up there on the silver screen.’
‘So how will you choose your future career? Now that you have retired from le foot?’
‘You’ve just sorted it for moi,’ says I. ‘You and big-phallus Fourier. I’ll be living in the phalanstery from now on. I’m going all communist! I don’t have to choose. Movies, gigs, restaurants, ambassadorial goodwill tours, even dancing on ice with Kylie – je ferai tout! Merci Sami, I owe you one.’
‘Of the thirteen passions, says Fourier, it is the passion papillonne that is le plus important. This is what drives you to desire diversity and difference.’
‘Absolument,’ says I, while one of my minions flashes my passport at security. ‘I have enfin emerged from my footballing chrysalis. Now I am the beautiful international butterfly. Tattooed variety. Sticking my golden proboscis into every flower. And hoovering up the nectar.’
‘Bon voyage!’ Sami called out.
For a long while I used to go to bed early. Well, I had to, the gaffer insisted on it. Otherwise it was two weeks wages and a bollocking. Clubbing and boozing were strictly interdits. And, to be honest with you, I used to get up early too. He was a stickler for the dawn patrol. Especially in the effin’ rain. When it was freezing. And you want to know the funny thing? I’m going to miss all that.
And now I’ve got a book in my hand. Never thought the day would come. Heavier than an iPad and thicker than a big Mac – and Sami says it’s only the first volume. ‘Do not worry,’ says he. ‘Only another 6 to go.’ He’s probs joking. (Tell me you’re joking, mon pote!) And the sentences weave in and out like Messi on one of his mazy runs. Or Maradona. Not sure I’m getting paid enough for this. Course I would keep nodding off over it.
And as I’m drifting off into dreamland, I see my whole life pass in front of my half-closed eyes. I see the towers of the old Wembley and I see Old Trafford and I see myself as I once was, a carefree and tattoo-less youth, wearing underwear without even getting paid for it. And I see myself leaping into the crowd and giving this geezer a flying karate kick, but I’m fairly sure I was in someone else’s boots there. Et pourtant there always has to be someone kicking a boot right in my face. Like there is no pleasure without pain.
Whatever. So I’m walking down the boulevard trying to forget it all and turn the page and I’m going past a Dunkin Donuts and – poof! – everything goes a bit wobbly. See I used to go to Dunkin Donuts in LA with the nippers. So it’s like suddenly I’m back there, playing for Galaxy, or hanging with Tom and Katie when they were still Tomkat, or I’m getting red-carded for wearing a sarong. Or something like that. Weird how everything gets muddled up in your memory. Like a dream. Floating in time and space.
Or there I go again, falling in love with a Spice Girl. Couldn’t get one of their tunes out of my head. It was just a petite phrase: ‘2 Become 1’. Deux font un! How could I resist? I can remember everything people used to say about us too. Like the Boss. ‘It’ll never work out, you know, laddie. She’s not really your type. She’s show biz. You’re an athlete, remember that.’ And he gives me a friendly clip round the ear. ‘And stop admiring yourself in the mirror all the time, you effin’ pansy!’
Yes, I had all the time in the world back then, or so I thought. I was immortal and nothing could stand in my way. And then I got clattered by one of those Chelsea salauds and it took me the best part of a year to come back.
What was it Sami said? Les vrais paradis sont les paradis perdus. The only true paradise is a lost paradise. He’s got a point. But, then again, there was that game against Argentina. Pity we lost that one. If only.
And now it’s over. The end. Except, isn’t it only just beginning? Like that film Groundhog Day. Brooklyn, 14, in training with QPR. Feels a bit like being reincarnated. England expects. What’s the World Cup after Rio?
But, hold on a sec. Can’t I live it all over again? Moi! Personnellement. I could buy a team! This time I’ll be the gaffer. I’ll be the Special One. Or maybe I can make a movie about my brilliant career. (Note to self: sandpaper down a few rough edges!) Or – OK desperate last resort! – I could always write a book. Now what am I going to call it?
When I surveyed the empty pitch and the stadium devoid of heaving, chanting crowds, it felt like the ghosts of all my old games were coming back to haunt me.
‘Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie,’ Franck said at my side. Which was an odd thing to say (‘The eternal silence of these infinite spaces scares me’!) when you stop and think about it – given that we had just come through a riot. Or war. Barely escaping in one piece. It was like a scene from Les Miz, but without the actual singing. Like the French Revolution all over again. Like having my head on a guillotine.
It all began (but where do these things begin?) on Sunday when we beat Lyons and became champions. #ParisiensEtChampions as
it says on Twitter. I played a whole two minutes right at the end of the game. Even the mascots are on for longer than that! Is that what I’m becoming – a mascot for the team? A lucky charm?
Whatever, it didn’t stop the papers from saying BECKS WINS THE LEAGUE FOR PSG. C’est fou, ça! Although you’ve got to say it’s a long long while since PSG won the league and then I arrive and they suddenly win. Coincidence or what?
Is that what got the fans going a bit bonkers? So we’re on this open top bus, and there’s a sea of people at the Trocadero, looking out on the Champ de Mars and the Tour Eiffel. We hop out of the bus and before you know what’s hit you there’s a ton of French mecs and not a few gorgeous gonzesses all over moi and getting a bit up close and personnel.
‘We love you Becks’.
‘On vous aime, David!’ some of them were chanting.
Someone unfurled a banner saying, ‘Ne partez pas, notre Rosbif!’
Well, it was all very touching. Really, it was. But, to be honest, there was maybe just a little bit too much touching going on. It was like, just in case I was off, they wanted to take a piece of me with them, a souvenir. My jacket had already gone. It would be the trousers next. I’m all for a bit of French kissing at the right time and place, but this was bang out of order. Now I know what the Pope feels like, or Napoleon or John Lennon.
Which is when Franck comes charging through the mob. ‘Venez avec moi, Monsieur!’ he yells at me, and gathers me up, so I’m riding piggy back. We make it back to the car with him going like a train and me giving the boot to anyone in our path. The old skills coming in handy. Perfectly weighted up the backside.
Behind us I can see all hell breaking loose, with riot police charging and tear gas canisters sailing up in the air. And blood streaking the faces of the fans. They were en colère that I’d done a runner. ‘COME BECKS!’ I could hear them yelling. But Franck took no notice and kept his foot down all the way to the Parc des Princes, just like Liam Neeson in Taken. ‘They do not think to look for us here,’ he says.
So I’m standing there, in the empty stadium, looking out on the pitch, and breathing a bit of a sigh of relief to be honest. And Franck starts going on about ces espaces infinis.
‘Quoi?’ says I.
‘Pascal,’ he says. ‘I love the smell and roar of battle. And my adversaries all around me.’ He is ex-Foreign Legion or something, old Franck. ‘I do not like the peace and quiet. I do not trust it. You, Monsieur, must feel like that, non? Now you are on the verge of retiring. Now it is all over. No more excitement. Nothing to do any more. No one to play with.’
He had a point. Everybody already knew I was at the end of the road, football-wise. I stared into the void and the void stared back at me. But at least it was a canvas to work on. I had nothing – and that was how I liked it. I would have to die and be re-born, start a new life, beginning right now. ‘I never really understood it before,’ says I. ‘But now I think I get it. That thing Sartre said.’
‘I am not what I am. I am what I am not.’
‘Je ne suis pas ce que je suis. Je suis ce que je ne suis pas.’
‘At the end of the day, I must morph or die. Je ne suis plus David Beckham.’
‘Alors, Monsieur,’ says Franck, as he is driving me back at speed to the Bristol. ‘Tell me about it. Was it the mental breakdown? La dépression nerveuse?’
I wish I knew.
‘Was it like en Chine when you try to do one of your stylish free kicks in your suit, and in fact fall flat sur votre perfect cul?’
‘Non!’ says I. ‘It wasn’t like that.’ The memory was still raw, even if mon perfect cul had healed.
‘I hope this one does not end up on the YouTube as well.’
‘Because that would be embarrassing. Encore!’
‘Oui. Gênant,’ I laughed nervously. ‘C’est vrai.’ So what did happen exactly? I mean, before Franck came and picked me up and carried me off and shoved me in the car. Before I turned into a human jelly.
It was supposed to be just another Adidas shoot. Those Climacool shoes. ‘360° Cool’ (on account of having perforations all the way round, including on the sole, for maximum breathability). Nothing wrong with that. I was supposed to be running along the Seine. It was a hot day, true, but it had to be a hot day. That was the whole point of the script. Leave the heat out of your workout. Everyone else is boiling and drooping, whereas I remain cool and fresh as a daisy – grâce à Climacool. So naturally the make-up girl has to pat me all over with a powder puff. And that was all fine. All in the line of duty. Pas de problème.
Then I’m fiddling with the shoes. Ice blue, but they’re a bit tight. Which is when one of the young Adidas reps digs another pair out of a box. ‘David,’ he calls out. ‘Voilà! Catch!’ So I turn round and out of the corner of my eye I see this boot flying towards me. Like an arrow.
‘That’s all I remember,’ I say. ‘It’s a blank after that.’
‘I tell you what happens after that,’ says Franck. ‘You should have caught it. He was just throwing you the shoe. Instead, you curl yourself into a ball. With your hands over your head. Like a bomb just went off. Spouting Candide, ‘Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes’, Alors ça, c’est bizarre. He was not throwing it at you.’
That’s it! What Sami would call a little Madeleine moment. It all comes flooding back. ‘It was the Boss,’ says I.’
Course, there is only one Boss. Le Patron. It was at Old Trafford. 2003. We had just lost to Arsenal. I was sitting on my towel in the Man U dressing room. The Gaffer’s fuming and I’m sitting there all innocent like and the next thing you know he’s kicked this boot at me and it clocks me right on the nut. I’ve still got the scar over my eye. Which I show to Franck.
‘I see no cicatrice,’ says he, turning back to keep his eyes on the road. ‘Ça must be tout petit!’
‘Not all scars are visible,’ says I.
‘Ah, oui, Monsieur,’ he says. ‘Je comprends. This is your mental problem.’
‘But this was the man I thought of as a father! He gave me my big chance. And then he tries to knock my head off!’
‘L’enfer c’est les autres!’ says Franck. ‘You know this?’
‘Hell is other people?’
‘Sartre. Huis clos. We are already in hell and we do not know it. The others, they are our torturers. What they do or say. That is the explanation of your Patron. He is the best because he is the worst. Lucky for you he is retired now. You no longer have to fear the boot.’
‘You’re right. Merci, Franck. I should not fear le boot. Or le Boss.’
‘Ne vous inquiétez pas, Monsieur. You retire soon, anyway. Like Fergie. What is your expression? You ‘ang up your boots? Raccrocher les crampons. Is that right? Monsieur, Monsieur, are you malade? You have the crise de nerfs again?’
I had curled up into a little ball in the back of the Beamer. And I couldn’t help myself, I was muttering, ‘Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes’.
2.35… 2.35… 2.35…
2.36! Effin’ enfin! That’s the trouble with digital – you can’t watch the hand going round, can you? What I need is one of them big station clocks, that’ll do it.
Not a good start. Seemed loads longer than a minute. More like an hour! What Sami calls la durée as opposed to le temps (something he reckons he picked up from a bloke name of Henri Bergson – who apparently influenced Marcel ‘Petite Madeleine’ Proust). It’s all to do with how you experience time, you know, subjectively. What it feels like, not what it says on the clock. ‘Ta conscience du temps,’ he says.
I was moping around Paris on account of my 3-match suspension (harsh natch, but hey, c’est la vie!) I can only do so much training. Or shoots. Or mucking about with the boys. Or going to VB’s fashion shows. Or hanging out with Elton. After that, I’m on my own. Thrown back on my own resources. Alone. On me tod. And all the while itching to get back on the pitch, champing at the bit.
Which is when Sami steps in and recommends this mental exercise for me. I have to stare at the clock, he tells me, until I can ‘see’ the hands going round. First the big hand (not so hard, selon lui); and then, ultimately, the little hand too (quasiment impossible). Slowing myself right down, so I’m on the same wavelength as the universe. ‘Tu vas trop vite!’ he says. ‘La lenteur, slowness, that will save you.’
We were just getting into our cars outside the PSG ground. I told him I was shooting off to Londres for a couple of days. ‘You want to fill the hours with futile divertissements,’ he says. ‘Non! You need to empty out the hours. Till there is nothing – you experience le néant, you become one with le vide. Then you want nothing, you need nothing, you are nothing.’ He gave me the page numbers to look up in the Carnets, by Albert ‘The Outsider’ Camus’. Turns out he was the fella started this lark with the clocks.
When he was in his car (a sporty little Audi), Sami wound the window down. ‘One more thing, you must empty out your head too,’ says he, tapping the side of his head. ‘Il faut vider ton cerveau.’
‘Ha ha that shouldn’t be too hard for moi, hein?’
‘They have it all wrong,’ he says, looking at me seriously (he is always serious). ‘On a tort. You are not the crétin. L’imbécile, that is just a game you play. You have not the empty head. Non, au contraire. Your head, it is too full. It overflows. You are thinking too much. You must think less. Le degré zéro de la pensée. Like zero gravity. You will feel yourself floating.’
End of flashback. Munching peanuts 30,000 feet up. Ever since Sami started going on about it, I can’t stop thinking about stopping thinking. Does that mean I’ve stopped? It’s doing my head in!
Wow! Get that. Sacré bleu! It’s 3.38 – more than an hour, gone, just like that, hey presto, vanished into the void. It’s working! Time is really flying now. This 3-match suspension will be over in no time.
Oh oh. Merde. I just skipped time zones, says my phone. Fast-forwarded une heure just hopping on the plane back to Paree! It’s a whole lot easier than staring at the clock, that’s for sure. Hey, lightbulb moment! I’ll just tell the pilot to do a quick 180, nip back to good old London, and start all over again. That’ll do it, knock off another hour. Then we can go round again. Camus didn’t think of that, I’ll bet!
My brain’s on fire!
Long night of nightmarish angst and paranoia.
In Paris. Or London? LA? Dunno, my brain is going. Good birthday bash though. So many kind gifts! Too many? A sporty Jag. Colour, indigo. Diamonds, naturally. But, truth is, things count for nothing up against a classic family night out. VB, Brooklyn, Cruz, plus additional boy and girl. All so full of amour for moi – and it’s mutual. BUT… A thing is missing. I just know it. But what? So hard to say. Think I’m stuck. Which is why I can’t grab any z’s. Must try and work it out! And thus, finally, with any luck, will attain land of nod.
I hop up from my plank of nails, flip on a light and prowl about our 5-star. Ritz or Savoy, hazy on data as such, amid global luxury and sophistication. How did it all start? With a book, I think. Gift from Sami. Typical! La Disparition, trans. Gil Adair as A Void. Author? Initials GP on flap. How odd! Intriguing though. Bit of a whodunit I think. Protagonist Anton Vowl. Funny sort of thing to call your main man, I thought.
‘Oui,’ says Sami. ‘It is a lipogram, omitting a crucial…’
'OK, cool,' says I. 'Just what I always want…
My anarchic guru put a cautionary digit to his lips to signify no sound. ‘Shhh’ says S. ‘It is a story of loss.’
‘Ha! No kidding?’
Couldn’t wait to start. Finally, horizontal, at night, I can tuck in. Scanning a chaotic paragraph or two, studying a circuitous syntax, I sigh, ‘Wow, this is good, brill in fact, but bamboozling! What’s this labyrinth of a plot all about?’ Gist, in short: guy is at a loss to grasp what is going on. Ha ha I know all about that! Moi aussi. I’m all agog.
Soon assassins start bumping off our starry cast. But why? Nobody knows. Confusing imbroglio. So natch I’m anxious to work it all out, to approfondir this quasi-Sartrian roman noir. I flick through my wiki, from start to finish. A, B, C, D, F, and so on, but nothing, nada! I can’t fathom it! Infuriating. Baffling. And just who is this GP guy anyway?
I dig up a pic on my trusty iPad. Man with a cat athwart his arm, high up. And a bushy afro and hairy chin. GP that is, not his cat. Hip-looking lad, sort of philosophical and whimsical too. But this photo, voyons, it’s not much of an assist.
What could it possibly signify?
Thinks: who did our boy play for? Man U? Madrid? LA Galaxy? PSG? Or Spurs, à la Ginola?
Am I going mad?
A haiku haunts my brain:
Slowly, but infallibly
My thoughts drift
Into a miasmic mist
I switch on my handy mini TV. Alright, a match! Football is a kind of solution at that. Goal! Cristiano Ronaldo as usual. Not Barça. I’d watch J. Barton at a push, it’s that kind of night.
At last I can flop into mon lit and dormir, my whirling thoughts finally at bay. Thus football is good for my soul, as if magically holding back a stormy Atlantic. Till dawn anyway.
I still wish I could work out what is lacking though. A ghost lurks in my subconscious, a blank, a gap. A thing? No, a big fat nothing: a void.
Maybe I was just trying too hard. That’s the problem when the gaffer brings you on in the 83rd minute as a super-sub. There’s more chance of you getting your marching orders in the 89th. As happened to moi in the match against Evian. Effing carton rouge. Encore!
It probably looked worse than it was. I had the studs up, c’est vrai, but there was no contact. Admittedly I gave him a full-on body check. Yellow, not red. Well, let’s split the difference and call it pink. Or orange. Whatever. Long and short, I won’t be back in PSG colours for a while. Merde. Still, at least I can let my hair down on my birthday (I expect VB’s got a nice night out lined up for Thursday!).
So I’m taking the early walk back down the tunnel and Sami comes up to me and wraps a friendly arm round my shoulder. ‘Joey is already tweeting,’ he says. As if that was a consolation.
‘What’s that silly git got to say?’
‘That it was a “naughty tackle”. That you deserved your fate. That you were “heading that way”.’
Cut here to the dressing room. By then I’d just about finished my expletive-heavy anti-Barton rant. And had time to think about my chequered career. Red and yellow checks. First England captain to get sent off. In a ‘friendly’ too. And that stupid retaliation against the Argies. Probably lost us the World Cup. Not to mention 41 yellow and 4 red for Real Madrid. It all started to add up. 7 red total. I am a dirty player. Dirty Dave. I’d never realized it before. ‘Am I as bad as Barton then?’
Sami folded his tracksuit top and stowed it neatly in a bag. Tidy sort of bloke. I like that. ‘According to Sartre, we have to assume responsibility for our acts,’ he says. ‘We cannot blame anyone else for making us do what we do. Not our parents. Not history. Not our own infantile traumas. Not Joey Barton.’
‘According to Michael Jackson, I’m bad. Bad, bad, really really bad.’
‘Sartre says you only have two fundamental choices. Sadism or masochism. Dominate or be dominated. Inflict pain or endure it. Or possibly both.’
‘Footballer, was he, JP? ‘Cos that’s just what it feels like.’
I sat down on the bench and ripped my shirt off. ‘Like Joey Barton then.’
‘He described boxing as a “binary praxis of antagonistic reciprocity”.’ You remember?’
‘Quoi! You having a laugh? Barton?’
‘Oh yeah.’ Sami had loaned me volume 2 of JP’s Critique de la raison dialectique for bedtime reading. ‘Now I get it. Wondered what he was going on about. Une thingumy thingumyjig de la something somethingorother. Thought maybe it was the class struggle.’
‘And yet it fits le foot precisely, n’est-ce pas?’ Sami tied up his shoelaces. Double knot. As I say, neat. ‘In football, as le maître said, “everything is complicated by the presence of the opposing team”.’
I dropped the soap. I was lying back in the bath with my eyes closed, trying to soak away the memories, and it slipped right out of my nerveless fingers. ‘Absolument!’ says I. It was so bloody obvious. I’d been thinking just that but hadn’t had the bottle to say it flat out before. If not for the other buggers, I could run and pass and score. And score. But they keep on getting in the way. Really annoying. If only they would back off and give me a bit more respect, a bit more space and time. Salauds.
I looked down into the water. And then I knew. ‘But there is one thing your know-it-all JP didn’t mention, isn’t there? Evian.’
‘Qu’est-ce que ça signifie?’
I picked up one of the bottles our hosts had left scattered about the place, with their name on the label, as if to torment the opposition. ‘They think they are so pure. So mountain-fresh. So clean. They leave us only one choice. Dirty.’
‘Oui. Les mains sales,’ says Sami. ‘Dirty hands. Sartre’s great play.’
I lifted one muddy, unsoaped leg out of the water. ‘Dirty legs, more like!’ says I. ‘Les jambes sales, by Dirty Dave. By moi.’
So I’m like, ‘Mon Dieu! Looks like something out of the Middle Ages in here!’
And he’s like, ‘That is because it is medieval.’ French snapper. Big lad with a stoop and all sort of hunched up. Something to do with all the camera gear he was lugging about I expect. It’s heavy stuff, not like pulling out your iphone. Anyway, we were trooping up these ancient steps at the time. Inside Notre Dame cathedral. ‘They started building it back in the 12th century.’
‘I thought it was old.’ To be honest, I was starting to feel all creaky and Middle Age-y myself. Maybe it was to do with going up all those steps, round and round. I’d be all right in the shorts, but I was wearing this dapper Jean-Paul Gaultier 3-piece. And a tie.
Then again, it probably had something to do with Chris Hoy retiring. Our ‘greatest Olympian’ they say. And now he’s over the hill at… yep, 37. Not to mention John Higgins – getting blown out of the first round of the snooker masters, not quite up to scratch any more at… 37. Oh well, there’s always Giggs – at least he’s older than me. He’s almost as old as the gaffer himself.
But maybe, now I come to think of it, it was that kickabout with Brooklyn the other day. I s’pose I’ve never been that nippy on the old pegs, but that little devil was streaking past me like greased lightning. I’ll have to stick to the corners and dead balls.
And this photographer was a bit like that too. From the Quasimodo agency. He was way ahead of me. It was like he wasn’t walking up the steps at all, more swinging up the wall like Tarzan or something.
‘I’ll be all sweaty by the time we get to the top,’ says I, puffing. ‘It’s going to be a photoshop job at this rate if you want me to be the belle of the ball.’
He was out of sight, somewhere up in the tower, but I heard him call down, ‘La beauté est insupportable!’
‘Well, yeah, I s’pose beauty is a bit unbearable, now you mention it,’ says I. ‘But still, you want the pics to look good and all, don’t you?’
‘Oui, bien sûr,’ comes this distant, echoey voice, sounding almost like the bells themselves. ‘But you don’t want to look like a gypsy dancing girl, do you?’
I had a quick shufty at the Jean-Paul Gaultier. It was a bit orangey, now you come to mention it. Silky like.
‘Or Cristiano Ronaldo?’ he says.
‘You remember quand tu gueulais l’arbitre, in your last match,’ he yells back at me. ‘With the anger. When you get the yellow card?’
‘How was I to know he would understand Anglo-Saxon?’
‘This is what I want today.’ It’s like he was swinging from the rafters or something. Anyway his voice seemed to keep roving about right up high. ‘I want passion.’
‘I can do that.’
‘I want la vérité.’
‘Pas de problème , mon pote!’
‘I want ugly.’
‘You want what?!’
‘Le laid. La laideur. Yes, for me you must be ugly.’
Hang on mate, I thought to myself. I’m 37 not 67 – or 97. Let’s not get too previous here. I come out on to this ledge. And the photog, he’s up on the tower, clinging to the wall, like he’s glued to it. ‘Can you stand right there,’ he says, pointing.
‘What here?’ says I.
‘Oui, c’est ça. Now if you could just stick your head out over the ledge. Voilà, justement. Now, if you please, stick your tongue out, comme ça!’
‘Look at the figure next to you. You see, it is la gargouille. With horns and a tail and the wide-open mouth. Grotesque. But ugly,’ he says, swooping down from stone to stone, holding his camera in one hand, ‘is the new beautiful. You will be my joli laid. No longer a bland android! Try to hunch your back up. That’s it - make a nice hump. Now you are starting to look interesting, like an old ruin, or a bent, gnarly tree.’ He paused for a moment in his capering about. Then a flash went off. ‘Enfin, you are becoming the gargoyle.’
‘Or at least a gar-boy, eh?’ says I. ‘Ha ha.’
‘Still looking good, David.’
‘Toi aussi, David.’
I was a bit worried about that still, to be honest. As if it was all hanging by a bit of a thread or something.
Hold on a sec. This ‘David’ thing could get a bit confusing – even to me. See, I was doing this photo shoot, and I was sitting in the make-up room in a studio somewhere in the 6e arrondissement, staring at myself in one of those mirrors with the bulbs all round it, and there was a coiffeuse – bird by the name of Claudia (short orange hair, très gamine) – behind me spraying stuff on the barnet.
And who should come and plonk himself down in the pew next to me but old David Ginola, ex-PSG, ex-Spurs. Now he does hair ads for L’Oréal and Disney voiceovers. BTW he’s the one speaking English – to moi! But to be fair I was gradually getting the hang of the old parlez-vous, so I came back at him with a few words of français. And – who could blame me – a degree of froideur. Oh yeah, I’d read his comments online, when I signed for PSG.
So he looks at me a bit apologetic like. ‘You will understand, mon cher David, that when I said “Beckham’s reputation exceeds his pure footballing skills”, I was merely…’
‘Being an agent provocateur?’ says I. (Bought some of their “luxurious lingerie” for VB, didn’t I).
‘But also did I not say you were “beautiful”?’
‘Another piss-take, I bet.’
‘Ah, non! That I really mean. I would not take a piss – on your hair, for example. I like the way you wear it now, with the big quiff in front. I was not so sure when you have it all cut off – like a refugee from the Gulag! But now, well you look a little more like… me.’
Even if we’d wanted to look at one another, we couldn’t turn our heads sideways, only swivel our eyes a bit, ‘cos now we both had stylists beavering away, combing and grooming and gelling. Neither of us wanted to spoil le look.
And then he says, ‘Bien sûr, I have the hair that is longer at the back. More like the mane of the lion. Flying out behind me when I run down the wing.’
‘Yeah, says I, Bobby Charlton used to have hair like that – flying out behind him. Long strands. Thinning a bit on top, of course. But still I don’t suppose you do so much of it these days, do you, the running down the wing I mean, what with you being retired and all? (And Sir Bobby, no offence, in your shoes I might go for the comb-over too)
‘Soon enough you too will have to diversify.’
‘It’ll be a while before I play the Shrimp in Finding Nemo though.’
Then, inspired by the banter, flame-haired Claudiastarts chipping in. ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall…’
‘I am the fairest of them all,’ says David, coming over all Lion King. ‘Of this il n’y a pas de doute.’
I had a bit of a coughing fit there. And they say I’m a narcissist! ‘So what’s the verdict, Claudia, him or me?’
‘Like two Greek gods, n’est-ce pas?’ David tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear.
Claudia gives us this big fat moue. ‘I will show you the one who is truly beautiful!’ She puts down her comb and whips out a phone, taps a few keys and shoves the image right in our faces. ‘Voilà!’ says she. ‘David by the sublime Michel-Ange. The most perfect man I know. Peut-être le seul.’
‘Nice head o’ hair, I’ll give you that,’ says I.
‘Un peu démodé,’ snorted David.
‘Look, she says, it is we, the sculptors, who make you beautiful. You and your chevelure. You are nothing on your own. We – and the camera – make statues out of you. Social facts, as Durkheim says in Les règles de la méthode sociologique, sont des choses. Beauty, pareillement, is a thing. We find it therefore in the still photograph and the Michel-ange.’
‘C’est vrai,’ says I. ‘But your David’s not going to score too many goals, is he?’
The other David turns his head towards me and flashes me a grin (you can’t help but notice the great teeth!). ‘Or go dashing down the wing with the wind in his hair, hein?’
‘And David could do with a pair of my underpants, I reckon.’
‘Because he is worth it,’ says David.