Tuesday, October 15, 2013
"We take the A train," said our leader, squinting at the map, before exclaiming like Captain Mainwaring, “This way, chaps.”
We struggled to keep up. Ahead of him were two large signs – one with a large red A pointing right, the other left with a B indicating left.
“Look, there’s the train,” shouted the leader, confidently turning left.
I opened my mouth to protest, then saw that it was a double decker. None of us had ever been on a train with an upstairs. We were like excited schoolboys as we clambered aboard.
Five minutes later the train slowed into a station.
Here we are – Musée D’Orsay – no, wait. The sign said “Invalides”. Wrong way.
We leapt off and crossed platforms, where another train was waiting to take us back. Except that off it went in the same direction as the previous one. We were getting further and further from the museum.
It didn’t matter – I’d rather be lost in Paris than anywhere in the world. And in the company of old friends, I could get lost forever.
We’d all stepped out of our lives for a weekend of nostalgia. Five lads, fresh out of university, had started in the same job on the same day. Since then, our lives had taken wildly differing paths, but we’ve remained friends and, every few years in the second week of October, we’d meet up for lunch.
But this year was special. It was the 40th anniversary of our adulthood, so we grey-haired sexagenarians went for a weekend in Paris. And, because none of us would dare suggest to our wives that we should go alone to such a romantic place, the ladies came too.
Within one minute of arriving at our modest hotel everyone had regressed by four decades. And then we realised that, despite the traumas and triumphs that life had thrown at us all since 1973, none of us had changed a jot.
There was the leader, whom we always said would rule the world; the bespectacled and perpetually organised planner; the laconic laid back one that made us all laugh; the Northerner, his blunt sense of humour and determination cutting through any bureaucracy; and then there was me, the one they all called the Creative. I’m not sure it was entirely complimentary, as I was trying to be a serious journalist at the time.
You’d think that out of five grown men, including those who had gone on to lead large corporations, or created and sold entrepreneurial businesses, or fraternized with prime ministers and peers, there might be one of us who could organise a table plan? Not a chance.
“Boy, girl, boy,” we shouted, as three men found themselves seated together on the first night.
We stood up and tried again.
“Your wife here, my wife there, and his wife next to… hang on, we’re still sitting together!” – none of us could work it out.
“You’re supposed to be a director, Gutteridge,” said the leader.
“And you’re supposed to be a leader,” I retorted.
Our wives collapsed with laughter at our uselessness.
“Let’s relax with some quiet jazz,” said the organiser after dinner, and promptly organised some taxis.
But he ordered one too many, which nearly caused a taxidriver riot. My group arrived safely at the jazz venue and had been enjoying the singer for about 20 minutes when we realised there was no sign of the leader. We rang him: he had led his group to a completely different joint, and were listening to completely different lady singing showtunes, who glared furiously as he sheepishly led his pack out join us.
On the last evening, we were to have dinner in a restaurant next to the hotel but, despite being booked by the fastidious planner six months previously, they had lost our reservation.
That’s when the leader came into his own. Quite how he conjured a table for 10 in a crowded Parisian restaurant without a word of French I have no idea, but I guess that’s why he’s the leader and I’m just the creative.
And why we might just devolve organisation of the next trip to him. Provided he promises to bring a GPS satnav.