One evening, late in 1949, when chatting with the musicians of the band with which I sang at the little night club in the Pau Casino, the topic of conversation turned to their domestic problems, the relationship with their wives, infidelity and the joys of sex, which I admitted I had not yet experienced, a fact that upset them a great deal on my behalf.
On my nineteenth birthday, 12th December 1949, the band invited me to a surprise dinner party - they said.
When the night club closed, they drove me out of town to an exclusive country club and, as we parked outside, I noticed that the front porch was discreetly lit by a red light. This, I suspected, could augur badly..
They rang a bell. The door was opened by a heavy-jawed woman with platinum blonde hair piled high on her head. She wore a rose bonbon evening gown which hardly contained her massive bosom. She greeted us warmly but then looked at me doubtfully.
'He is far too young to come here,' she said.
'It’s his nineteenth birthday,' my musician friends protested. 'Not only that, but he is English and still a virgin'
'Oh, quel desastre!' she exclaimed, 'Come in, come in. I will get la petite Mireille to attend to him immediatement.'
The entrance hall of the country club was like a Western saloon, with a wide oak staircase leading up to an oak balcony that had doors leading off.
'Comment tu t’appel, mon petit ?' the Madame asked me.
'Johnny Launay,' one of the musicians replied.
'Tres bien Johnny. You just sit down here on one of the sofas and I will check when Mireille will be free.'
She went up the stairs, along the balcony, disappeared through a door and returned shortly.
'Mireille will not be long. They are nearly finished,' she said.
The musicians followed the Madame into the bar which was crowded with hearty gentlemen. A few minutes later a number of them peeped round the door to see what I looked like, grinned, winked and gave me the thumbs up.
I was trapped. There was no possibility of me running away and I could hardly refuse the generous present I was being offered. I waited.
I tried to imagine what Mireille would look like. ‘La petite Mireille’ the Madame had said. Seventeen? Eighteen ?
A small dusky maiden perhaps ? A tall Nordic blonde ?
A door opened on the balcony above me and a woman appeared, forty five if a day, wearing only a loose dressing gown..
'Johnny?' she asked, looking down at me.
I stood up, terror stricken.
She crooked her finger at me. 'Vien Petit,' she said, pursing her lips in way of a ‘come hither’ kiss.
I started up the stairs in as manly a manner as I could, followed her down a corridor and she ushered me through a door.
It was a bedroom designed to remind the toughest of men how comfortable they had been in their mother’s womb. A huge double bed, turned down as in the best hotels, was surrounded by purple, red and pink velvet walls and the indirect lighting was thankfully low. There was a Japanese screen hiding something in one corner and above the bed on the wall hung a large gilt framed photograph of a famous cowboy film star.
'Ah ha...!’ I said nervously, recognizing the actor.
Mireille dropped her dressing gown and stood before me stark naked.
'I can never remember his name.,' she said, untying my tie and my shirt buttons.
'I can’t remember it either,' I stuttered, thankful that we had a subject of conversation.
She undid my belt and my flies, my trousers dropped around my ankles. I was paralysed with embarrassment and didn’t dare look at her ample breasts which she was coyly rubbing against me. .
'There is a bidet behind the screen,' she said in way of a suggestion.
I had nothing on now except my socks. I went behind the screen, heart pounding, face flushed. The icy cold water failed to dampen my growing enthusiasm. I knew that during the experience which was about to follow, it was essential for me not to lose control quickly. From the musicians I had learned that women took hours before being satisfied. To counter this, excited young men should not think about what they were doing but occupy their minds with a mathematical problem, in this way the great moment could be delayed.
I came out from behind the screen. Mireille was lying on the bed, studying her nails, waiting for me, the qulit and top sheet discarded on the floor.
The moment had come. This was it. Heaven’s gate was about to open. Nature’s most bewitching gift to man.
She was helpful. A true professional. She whispered sweet nothings in my ear, sighed not too convincingly. I decided to surprise her. I would be the first nineteen year old to seduce her completely. I couldn’t think of a mathematical problem so instead concentrated on remembering the cowboy star’s name.
Arthur...Basil....Charles....Donald.....the mattress was squeaking but I was doing well.
She was impressed....Edward....Frederick....
My very being shuddered.
'Gary Cooper!!!' I blurted out, and at the same time the great moment was suddenly over.
'Oh, yes!' she exclaimed. 'How clever of you.'
Had she thought me clever because I had remembered the film star’s name or because I was a great lover? The whole episode must have lasted at least two minutes.
Mireille got off the bed and disappeared behind the screen.
'You have to go now,' she said. 'I have another customer waiting.'
I didn’t want to know that. I wanted to remember this, my first experience, as something romantic, something sweet, delicate, and loving. Instead, I knew that the only memory I would have of the momentous occasions was Gary Cooper smiling down at me.