The Wrong Bar - a Short Story set in Rural France, with Engineers, Cows and Whisky

There is nothing to be gained from reading this :)

Ken is an engineer. So is Alan. They were spending two weeks just outside Paris, guests of Dauphin Engineering, accepting new equipment for The Company. Their days were spent in pursuit of technical excellence. Their mission to determine whether the French product could meet the standards laid down in the Silver Book. The Silver Book is the Company Bible on all things technical. It was written in the halcyon days when engineers reigned supreme.

Though not identical, Ken and Alan are both about five foot nine and slightly rounded, with thick black hair and thicker black beards. Both have strangely delicate hands, protruding ingenuously from engineering tweeds, and both favour that sweetly aromatic tobacco that conjures up, to those who have been there, memories of rugby internationals at Murrayfield. How, then, to tell them apart? By voice. Ken, for all his years south of the border, still retains the vowels and inflections of the Scottish Borders. Alan, alas, is Mancunian.

This distinction, immediately obvious to any member of our island community, was nevertheless lost on their hosts who preferred instead to refer to Alan as "Monsieur le Sabot". Not that he wore clogs as such, but he was never (in those days) to be seen without knee length leather cowboy boots. During working hours, out of respect for engineering convention, these were covered up by spiky tweed trousers, but in the evening Alan gave them their heads, trousers tucked in for maximum effect, trusting them to bring him safely home.

Of course, the similarity in style was no coincidence. Ken and Alan copied each other, and had done so throughout a long working partnership. Neither knew the other was doing it. Each was only dimly aware that he was doing it himself. Each thought the other was a first rate engineer. Both were right. Engineers don't talk about such things. Such was their innocence that when, unaware of their presence, a junior colleague had passed a remark about Tweedledum and Tweedledee, its significance had completely failed to register.

For the most part, the French assignment was an uneventful turn of duty. The working days were dull enough. Alan and Ken enjoyed them, but after all, they are engineers. The evenings were handled conventionally by the host company. Duty was done, and done well. By strict rotation, a member of the Dauphin engineering team was appointed to "give our guests a good time". They did. Expense accounts and Parisian nights go well together. Scarcely worth mentioning. Not like the second Thursday, the night that went wrong.

* * *

Claude Lannier arrived, on time, at the "Chez Gautier" bar, bought himself a beer, and sat down to await his charges for the night. Chez Gautier was an establishment that Claude favoured. It was often frequented by some of his old college friends. Tonight was no exception, and he was soon happily swapping stories, as of old. From time to time he glanced towards the door expecting Alan and Ken to appear at any moment, but it must be said that he was not greatly put out by their failure to turn up. In fact, the occasional glance towards the door was the total extent of his search. Next morning, in accordance with the Unwritten International Code of Business Etiquette, he apologised for having mistaken the arrangements and gone to the wrong bar. He had of course done no such thing.

Ken and Alan went to the wrong bar, on time, bought beers, and stood around to wait for Claude. It didn't seem appropriate to sit down, it wasn't that sort of place. It was the sort of place that went quiet when invaded by rounded, bearded strangers, one in cowboy boots; the sort of place where a huge belly, ill supported by spindly legs, and only partially restrained by a tee-shirt thrust its balding head between Alan's and Ken's and got it to say, "Ha, English, Yes?"

"Pas exactement, monsieur, je suis Ecossais, et mon ami est . ."

"Ha, Ecossais, Scotland. Where find ze kilts? Haggis. Whisky. Bagpipe. Ha, l'Ecosse, Scotland. Ha."

It seemed to Ken that an answer was called for, perhaps along the lines of Scots not wearing ze kilt all ze time, but even as he was mentally piecing this together in French, the belly turned towards its compatriots and goaded its legs into a few steps of graceless but unmistakable Highland fling, the arm actions further reducing the efficacy of the tee-shirt as a covering garment.

"Natives seem friendly enough," said Alan, and as if to confirm this judgement one such "native" could be heard ordering whisky at the bar "pour les Ecossais".

Travellers abroad so often play it safe, going only to the "good" places where they can sit on dralon amid reproduction mirrors, listen to piped drivel, and be ignored by everyone, just like at home. Yet with just a few words of the language and enough gumption to beat a hasty retreat should the situation demand it, a far better time can often be had by going off the beaten track and way down market. Cheaper too.

For our intrepid warriors the night was better than cheap. It was free. Alan had the wit to realise that he couldn't do better than invent Scottish parents, and he had spent long enough in Ken's company to be able to carry it off well enough. The belly, who turned out to be called Jean-Paul decreed that "All Scotchmen drink whisky". Ken the pedant briefly considered advising him on the dangers of stereotyping, but Ken the pragmatist decided that, after all, the point was not worth contesting. Especially since Jean-Paul's friends seemed eager to put to the test our heroes' capacity for their national drink.

And by the time it became abundantly clear that they had come to the wrong bar, it didn't seem to matter any more. Somehow it began to seem like a very right bar indeed. Alan came to believe that he came from Clackmanan, (the name had always appealed), that his brother was a crofter and his uncle worked in a distillery, and he was just about to regale the company with a reminiscence about haggis shooting in the Great Glen when Ken felt obliged to tramp firmly on his cowboy booted left great toe. The fact that he landed on the right great toe instead, and that Alan didn't notice anyway, can be taken as evidence that whisky retains its normal properties even when far from home.

It was the sort of bar that opened when Jean-Paul and his friends wanted to drink, and closed when they wanted to go home, which they did around midnight, with many shouts of "Vive l'Ecosse" and much loud laughter. As the echoes died away, Ken and Alan found themselves alone in the moonlight.

* * *

Much has been written about stages of drunkenness. Ken and Alan had reached stage five. No judgement, tons of energy, the luck of the devil, and a burning urge to put it all into practice. It was a shame that their hotel overlooked a field of cows.

It was Ken's idea, and he tramped off into the field like a rambler possessed. Alan, more cautious by nature, and mindful ever of his boots, left them by the gate and ploughed in after Ken in his socks, trouser ends securely tucked in. Their intentions were entirely honourable. Cows don't become attractive until the seventh stage of drunkenness, (so I'm told). These were ideal cows. Large, warm and comfortable, placid enough to let two inebriates clamber up onto their backs, and willing to oblige by wandering around the moonlit field without rolling over. Such cows are rare indeed. Lesser cows would have broken a few of our heroes' ribs, and left them plastered head to foot in mud, and worse than mud. Stage five luck. And the whole performance went unobserved, even to the singing of Rawhide.

For the second time that evening Alan's presence of mind shone through, as he leant on the gate to remove his mud caked socks before putting his boots back on. The hapless socks which for twenty glorious minutes of freedom, had never once forgotten to protect their trouser ends from the ravages of the organic clay, no doubt pondered on the ingratitude of the human spirit as they flew twenty yards into the field they had just left. With clean boots and fairly presentable trousers, Alan looked much like any other tired and emotional engineer abroad, saying goodnight to Ken and letting himself into room 307 of the Bonne Auberge. But Ken left a rich, agricultural trail from the lift doors to room 308.

We all have moments of shocking clarity of vision. Ken's came when he crashed down on the bed to take off his shoes. Unless we walk backwards we don't see our footprints. Yet somehow Ken knew that his footprints were there, connecting his room to the lift doors. Incriminating evidence. Must be removed. Footprints in the foyer leading to the lift. Must be removed. Footprints in the lift leading to the third floor. Must be removed. Wait a minute. Footprints in the lift stay in the lift, even if the lift goes to the fifth floor. So, forget about footprints in the lift. Can't pin them on you. Or the ones in the foyer. But must get rid of the ones leading to your door. Somehow. All this without even looking.

Hotels provide what hotels provide. Kettle, tourist brochure, instant coffee, tea bags. Electric trouser press, arguably the least useful appliance for removing cow dung from a French carpet. Rarely to they offer Dry Foam Carpet Magic, or even a scrubbing brush.

Ken is a lateral thinker. The Bonne Auberge is the sort of place that has a self service minibar in the bedrooms. Ken felt he was making quite a professional job of the corridor carpet, softening the footprints with the soda siphon and scraping them up with the beer mat, when sleep finally caught up with him.

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Comments 47 comments

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

More! Serialize! More episodes!

This kind of wit is wonderful -- reminds me of Jermone K. Jerome.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

Engineers are still needed and maybe their roles have changed to suit service sectors compared to manufacturing. Nice short story.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Teresa - when I wrote this (a few years ago) I had ideas of developing it into a series, but never followed through. Maybe some day...

Countrywomen - as an engineer myself, I'm allowed to poke a little fun at them/us. Hey, but without manufacturing, there's not a lot to service ;)


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Great story, one I could entirely comprehend as I remembered a former boyfriend (in between husbands) who in a his drunken state, admitted that in the seventh stages of drunkeness, he found his mother's dairy cow attractive. The next day, I don't think he ever understood why he wasn't my boyfriend any longer. LOL


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Jerilee - I had a maiden aunt who used to describe the four stages of drunkenness as: Jocose, Verbose, Bellicose, Comatose. Makes sense too.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Smart madien aunt, but then I look through the eyes of a woman who was once married to an alcoholic.  Seriously consider more episodes. 

I should add, that I have it on high authority -- that the consequences of cow-man relationships was not only being kicked by a cow, but also cleaning up something a lot more aromatic than clay, when he was covered from head to toe in it.  After that part of the confessional -- I quickly realized our relationship was doomed, since I'd never be able to look at him in quite the same adoring way.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Could have been worse - pigs for example...


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

My poor mother (and the rest of the jury) was excused from further jury duty after the trial involving sheep. The woman beside her was confused by the charges, and whispered to my mum "What? Burglary?"


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Sheep? You never told me you were Welsh!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK

Ok, so that was the taster... when do we get to read part 2? I could picture every scene, with the vaguest memories of such events in my own life. Not that I was ever an engineer mind, but drink never distinguishes its effects by profession, at least not in my experience. Great story-telling Para. Elliptically delightful.


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

really enjoyed this Paraglider - more to come, when did you say?

I always thought that it was sheep and New Zealanders! - could be wrong of course. cheers


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Ajcor,

There's a joke about the Welsh. Apparently they've discovered two new uses for sheep. Meat and wool!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Reminds me of chasing horses with the idea of riding bareback in the moonlight. Fortunately, the horses wouldn't let me get even close. I'll always thank them for that. God knows what could have happened!

Great story!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Paraglider,

Did Ken fall asleep in the corridor? It's a good job cows are such docile beasts, or it might not have been such a happy ending!


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

Amanda - that is wicked!!! but funny...


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Very funny story, I would love to know what happened next :)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Wonderful appetizer, Para! Looking forward to more adventures of Tweedledum and Tweedledee!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Chris - Not sure if there will be a part two of this one. Maybe the next long haul flight will turn up a few ideas to string together.

Ajcor - Thanks! I think every bigger country has a sheep rumour about its smaller neighbour :)

Amanda - good twist on the tale! And Ken tells me he was only resting...

Christoph - yes, except horses are harder to catch than cows, as you found out :)

Misty - Thanks! I fancied a break from war and religion ;)

JamaGenee - Everyone is looking for a sequel - maybe some day :)


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Hi Paraglider! You have a knack for drawing me in with your first hub sentence :-) "There is nothing to be gained from reading this :)" Of course, then, I have to go and read it from beginning to end! Laugh!! Fun, and I gained something: about 10 minutes of wonderful enertainment! Thanks!


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

Para Great hilarious story. I thought for one absurd moment that one of them would try to smuggle the cow into his bedroom , but alas.

As the tourist said to the Australian farmer: "do you shear sheep here?" reply "No go and get yer own mate!".

I think this needs a "visiting engineers part2 , 3 , 4 etc"!


Melissa G profile image

Melissa G 7 years ago from Tempe, AZ

Nicely done, Paraglider. :) I especially enjoyed the engineering mentality at play throughout all the drunken shenanigans and the rich mental imagery of the final scene. Ha!


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

a note to sixtyorso (hope it's OK with you Paraglider)

As the tourist said to the Australian farmer: "do you shear sheep here?" reply "No go and get yer own mate!".

As in "shear" - I think your pronunciation is a bit orf - that query has a distinctive New Zealand accent to it - as in sux not sex and Luyn not Lyn - I could go on ....cheers


Louie Jerome profile image

Louie Jerome 7 years ago from UK

An excellent read. I really enjoyed this story.


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Okay, Question, what do you call a sheep tied to a lamp post in Wales??

Answer, a Leisure Centre.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Elena - 'nothing to be gained' - most of my hubs are in some way topical or relevant (to something!), not qualities you could accuse this one of possessing :)  Thanks for the read.

Sixtyorso - 'nothing like a little judicious levity' as RLS said. Not sure about a sequel though as this is the only short story I've ever written. Not really my genre.

Melissa - thanks :)  Seems a shame to leave Ken asleep on the carpet, but maybe it's what he deserved..

Louie - thanks for stopping by :)


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

Not sure about a sequel though as this is the only short story I've ever written. Not really my genre."

think it might be - you need to keep going ....waiting on you Sir....


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Ajcor - I'll certainly give it some thought :)


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

I agree with ajcor. Keep at the short story thing - it is great!

Ps ajcor my accents are done from a seffrican bias (South African) which may explain my attempt at finding an approproriate spelling for verbal pun. perhaps "sheer" as in stocking may have been better.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

ROTF...you described aspects of my ex, the engineer. Can't wait for next episodes.

Whoever thinks engineers are stuffy, they just need to read this. More like, engineers are forcefully and self-righteously self-directed at times, like when an engineering problem has to be solved, but turned loose from a mechanical challenge, well, cow dung can reign.

Great story telling. I was hooked before the end of the first paragraph.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Sally - glad you recognise the characterisation! Engineers can be full of surprises. A lot are very competent musicians, for example. Thanks for the read.


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

sixtyorso - I do understand - my mistake!...cheers


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Not bad - eight days to explain a joke :)


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Absolutely delightful read - we want more!!! :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Shalini - maybe I will try to come up with a couple more.


Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

Paraglider, I enjoyed your story. :) You know you've done a good job when the reader feels like the author must have real experience in actually doing various events that transpire in the story. And I got the feeling that you must have experience in the art of riding a cow. :D

Nice story, wonderful job. :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Pam - you want to know the whole truth? They were pigs. Our feet were trailing in the ground...


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

Wonderful entertaining hub paraglider. I have worked with engineers and got the picture you were painting in a hilarious characterization in my mind. Great work. I love writers who can draw on my subconsious like that!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Earnest - thanks, glad it worked for you :)


Iphigenia 7 years ago

This was the first of your hubs that I read (rural france got me - pretty much my milieu) and it is very funny and I love the dryness of your wit ! Please develop it - more stories like this would make a great series as Teresa said way back when ....


Silver Freak profile image

Silver Freak 7 years ago from The state of confusion

ROFL!! I know some drunken Aggies (a local college) who tried this too. A far sadder ending in their case.

This may not be your milieu but you certainly made a fine effort of it. I really think you could do well in it!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Iphigenia and Silver Freak - Thanks very much for the visit & comments. I'd like to do more short stories but they take more time than I have right now. Maybe a retirement project!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

oh my God, engineers are drunk, haha, it is funny how men drink and get drunk, (I bet the two who are always together copy each other too like you said) any series to this story Dave?

have a good day, Maita


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I was intending to write more about this pair, but never quite got around to it. Maybe some day...

Thanks for the visit :)


Fill2 6 years ago

Loved it! Please continue!!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Fill2 :)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

Great story, Dave, and when is the next part comiong? Or have I missed it somewhere? It's so damn late here and I'm so tired I can't go looking for any more now. And besides, this was glorious enough entertainment for one night. In spite of your disclaimer at the top I got a loot out of reading this.

Thanks for the entertainment. I was going to try to comment in French, but the lateness of the hour overcame my rather slender grasp of the language and so I thought better of it!

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tony - I'm amazed you stumbled on this oldie. It's been dormant for almost a couple of years. I never did write a sequel, but maybe one day...

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