Point Conseil is the English advice centre I work at a couple of afternoons a week. A windowless, airless room so inspirationally bare that even when I have the chance to do some writing, my words are sucked up into the creative vacuum that is room 87D.
As I mentioned in this chronicle months ago, Point Conseil is where the EDF nuclear engineers come to brush up on their English. But more often than not we speak about more important subjects such as creaking joints, marital strife, Arsene Wenger’s team selection, or straight forward existential angst. Needless to say most of my students are male and have adopted these Wednesday and Monday afternoons as a kind of drop-in, no questions asked, therapy session.
Monsieur Arnold is a good example: a man who thinks life started slipping away from him the moment he was born.
‘My first breath felt like I was inhaling water. And it’s been that way ever since. Parents, school, work, marriage, children. A constant drain.’
He’s got a nice car, a good job, a good looking wife (he says), and expensive sunglasses. Yet he feels that his entire life has been a crock of shit.
‘I’ve done nothing with life except design radiation seals for nuclear reactors.’
He may have a point. But to cheer him up I told him why I always order chicken korma in Indian restaurants. Stick with what you know. Don’t go ruining your one night out by ordering something you might not enjoy. Like a Peanut Dhall or something equally hideous. You could order the entire menu just to say you’ve tried it, but it wouldn’t necessarily make a better meal.
‘Life is a gigantic Chicken Korma. Keep it simple!’ I continued, shaping my fist into a chicken in the hope that he might understand what the hell I was talking about.
He looked at me vacantly and said he had no idea what the hell I was talking about, except curry, which he didn’t like in any case.
‘Trop chaud,’ he said fanning his mouth with his right hand.
I wanted to explain that Korma is a mild dish which is why it’s a safe bet. Hence the analogy, but I didn’t see the point.
The fact is, Alain Arnold has been eating Chicken Korma everyday of his life and he doesn’t even like it. And if that isn’t incredible enough (The only other person I’ve ever met of my generation who doesn’t eat curry is a guy I met in a pub in Exeter who had lost all sense of taste after a car crash years ago. He said eating curry was too much of a gamble. Like playing Russian Roulette with your bowels). Neither does he drink. Watch films. Read books. Listen to music. He thinks children are idiotic (he has four) and believes all sport is for morons.
But the thing is, and here’s the bombshell, I like him. Amazing to think after what I’ve written but it’s true. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the fact that he does tell a good joke. And not just the words, but the delivery too. Very British. Enjoys laughing at himself. Which I suppose is what has saved him from turning into a piece of wood. Without his humour, his wife would wake up one morning to discover a cricket stump lying on the pillow where once there had been a man.
And if it wasn’t for his jokes, I too, would lose the will to live. Cooped up in an unimaginative room talking about radiation seals was not what I had in mind when I too popped out of my mother’s womb.