44 – Beggar

The entire population of France must have been eating out in Lyon last night. Masses of folk gorging themselves on steaks and salads. Pizzas and pasta. Sausage and onions. All Lyonnais style and all washed down with an ocean of wine. Hundreds of children buzzing around the ancient squares of Vieux Lyon hoping their parents were too drunk to remember their bedtimes. Beggars working the busy sidewalks as serious as any job.

I even tipped one purely out of admiration for his tenacity and guile. ‘Mister, I speaky good English. I show you sights for Euro.’

‘Forget the sights,’ I exclaimed handing him a five Euro note. ‘Buy yourself some wine. You have the hangover.’

As it turned out, I had the hangover as well. The reason was the new bar I’ve found on Cours Gambetta. A few Fridays ago I was walking back from Vieux Lyon after a vat of wine when I saw a gaggle of folk having fun outside this nondescript bar near where I live. I know the barman now, mainly because each time I pass him on the way to the toilet he touches me and winks. It’s not a gay bar (I think), but he always looks pleased when I enter. But these effeminate pats are not without profit as he invariably gives me the odd pint for free. The flipside being I have to go to the toilet more often.

So I ended up back at my flat and couldn’t help thinking about the amiable beggar. Images of him being kicked to shit by drunken football fans, stealing his five Euro note from his flea-bitten hands haunted me. I’m not exactly sure what led me to my next act, but I ended up throwing my money out of the window. Well, all 80 cents of it I had left. Whether it was out of sympathy for the beggar or some other deep-rooted mental affliction, I can’t tell you, except that within a minute, two of the residence’s pockmarked security guards, suited and booted in black combat gear, were knocking at my door.

Well done lads, just when I needed you most. I would have rather opened the door to the devil and all his wicked angels than you two fools, but now you’re here, what can I do for you?’

I’ve seen open drug dealing, prostitution, theft, since I’ve been here, yet my first minor digression – if throwing coins out of a window is an offence – results in a knock on the door faster than I bet my beggar spent his five Euros on a Carrefour Discount winebox.

I’m not exactly sure how the conversation went, although, as normal, I suspect I was overly apologetic, when a plain and simple ‘Fuck you,’ would have been justified. There’s an Arabic girl of 16 or so, maybe younger, who hangs around the residence always closely followed by her pimp boyfriend. I can’t prove anything (I wouldn’t want to) but my next wage packet says, she doesn’t hang around there every evening dressed in heels and ludicrously short skirts for fun. And as her boyfriend is never far away, normally smoking some extremely potent hash, my sound mind can only assume the rest. If I pass him late at night he always smiles pleasantly at me and utters a polite Bon Soir, coded to mean, ‘Are you looking for a fuck?’ I want to say something, confront him, beat his conscience, but this isn’t my neighbourhood and I would be mad to do so.

After the guards had gone away I turned my music up even further (last week they complained about that as well) and watched them scavenge for my money in the dark courtyard below. ‘I got a 20!’ I heard Beavis say to Butthead. I closed my window and collapsed into bed.

I dreamt of the beggar and the security guards and then later we’re all flying somewhere on a plane and then land on a motorway. It’s my most common dream. Things are going so well, we’ve had the drinks, the meal is served, the in-flight film looks like a good one, and then, we’re landing on a motorway. We never crash; I’m awake by then, but the dream repeats itself most weeks. Like a soap opera; the characters change but the plot doesn’t. I googled ‘Dreams of landing on a motorway’ a few weeks ago and got some Radiohead lyric. I wasn’t that surprised.

My Saturdays have a set pattern and today is no different. Once this is finished, I’ll head out for you know what – and no, that’s later. I remember PS Jones, our psychotic PE teacher saying to me one freezing cold morning in my first term: ‘You run Ogley. Or you die.’ This probably explains my crazy addiction. No matter the illness, the weather, the predicament, I run. If I woke up one morning without any legs, I would at least try.

I think I wrote about this before, but my biggest memory of my year here, is that Saturday morning in February running along the Rhone with an air temperature of minus twelve and a wind chill factor of minus a million. Not a soul in sight. All the runners, even my mate Pierre who I often ran with, had deserted me. ‘In bed with their cake and tea,’ I wrote, ‘while I pounded the freezing cold gravel alone’. It’s a different story today. One, it’s boiling hot, and two, I don’t do the Rhone anymore. I’ve gone hardcore. Or totally nuts.

Distressed at the ever-increasing number of runners along the Rhone, I had to think of another venue. It was one Saturday evening a few weeks ago knocking a few beers back on the slopes leading up to Fourvière, that I noticed a runner carving a path up to the cathedral at the top. ‘That’s it,’ I said to myself cracking another Kronenbourg as a toast.

The next day I cycled to the foot of the hill and had one of the most pleasant runs I’ve had for years. Once at the top of Fourvière, I ran over La Passerelle de les Quatre Ventes, circled the Cimetiere de Loyasse, skipped over the Roman Amphitheatre and then headed back down to the old town. Reaching my starting point, I decided to do it all again. And then again. It nearly killed me, but the elation I felt after was equal to winning the Liverpool 10km in 1989. I remember it was hot then, but not as hot as today. It’s nearly two o’clock and the mercury is currently pushing 34 degrees according to the Lyon Tourist website. The hottest part of the day and old Oggers is about to set out to conquer Fourvière once again.


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