Walking into the departmental archives of La Rochelle, France, I expected to find a beacon of tranquillity, the musty scent of ages past, perhaps some light jazz. Instead I found a geriatric underbelly of vice, licentiousness and high-stakes shuffling, aided and abetted by au fait administrators, and orthopaedic footwear. I was unaware that archival research was something anyone other than a historian would choose, by virtue of their subject, to do: there are so many other things in life that bring greater pleasure, like leisurely walks, fine cuisine, and breathing. But on an early Tuesday afternoon, this joint was pumping. Elbowing a well-coiffed hobbit out of the way on my way to desk 16, I unwittingly found myself in a Bermuda Triangle of furtive glances, ‘accidental’ nudges, and the faintest whiff of vin rouge.
Now, reader, I possess a clinically incurable ‘Resting Bitchface’ at the best of times, which has seen me ruin countless family photos, and intimate relationships. At its worst, it can be roughly approximated as a cross between Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and a slack-jawed orc. Unsettled by the feeling of seniors-on-heat, and now acutely aware of the live-action Tinder activity ebbing throughout the room, I hoped, in my naivety, that my RBF would provide prophylactic cover. Indeed the first hour passed deceptively quickly, engrossed as I was with as much 18th century correspondence, police documentation, and confiscated pornography as I could get my mitts on.
By 2.30, however, there had been a tangible increase in casual chair bumps, ‘cheeky’ shoulder grazes, and my first experience touching a bunion: by 4pm, an hour from closing, I could feel some kind of shotgun courtship was but a few rasping breaths away! Feigning nonchalance, I made the dismal mistake of checking my bank account, and quickly discovered that an enterprising cretin from Buckinghamshire had skimmed my debit card (‘may their balls or ovaries shrivel, forever more’). I thus immediately hauled ass to a WiFi hotspot, Skype-ventilated to Visa, and arranged a new card in the space of an hour. And yet it was not fast enough to get back to the archives before closing. By Thursday they had hauled ass, and I was never to see these feverish froglets, or their pheromones, ever again.