Way back in 1972 I was dining with friends at a small restaurant called the Fruits of Love just outside Amiens in northern France when I found a slug crawling through my lettuce. "Regardez," I said to the proprietor, "J’ai trouvez une er . . . um, une escargot sans une maison dans mon salade."
He was horrified and whisked the plate away, saying that by way of recompense we could drink as much wine as we liked. On the house.
Now I should explain at this point that I’d never considered myself a big drinker.......just a steady one. That said, every once in a while, I would be happy to indulge in what’s now known as a binge drinking session.
The next thing I knew I was being dragged from the back of a car by several armed and very angry French policemen, who handcuffed my arms behind my back and then threw me to the ground. "Aargh," I exclaimed, as I plunged, nose first, into the road.
It became apparent that because we’d been in a right-hand-drive car, the policemen couldn’t remember who’d been at the wheel. So they decided to punch the information out of us.
Obviously, being completely spineless, I’d have grassed on the offender straight away but I was also completely drunk and as a result had no clue who it might have been. So I was hit. "Aargh," I said again.
In fact, I said "Aargh" quite a lot in the course of the next few hours, mostly though when my escape attempt went all wrong.
For some reason that never did become clear we were taken to a hospital where the cunning plan was hatched. Having no spoons to hand, I ruled out the tunnelling option and began to wonder if it might be possible to go to the attic and build a glider while no one was looking. And then the idea hit me. I decided that this being a hospital, the window in the lavatory would not be fitted with bars.
I was right, and so — with the policeman waiting outside the cubicle — I made lots of, I thought, rather convincing being-sick noises and eased it open. It was not a big window but I was almost completely out when I felt the policeman’s burly hands on my ankles.
Have you ever been dragged backwards through a small window, while wearing handcuffs? Well don’t try it, because it hurts. It hurts nearly as much as being thrown to the floor again.
Perhaps this is why they’d taken us to the hospital. Because by the time they’d finished with us it’s almost certainly where we’d end up anyway.
But no. We were bundled back in the van, taken to the police station and ordered to strip. Oh how they all laughed when they saw my sunburn. "Le rouge Rosbif," said one. At this point, I was thinking about effing Frogs but I fear I may have said it out loud, which is why they punched me again. And because my trousers were 'round my ankles, I fell to the floor again. And because I was still wearing handcuffs, I landed on my nose again.
The cells in the Amiens pokey are like . . . well to begin with, it was hard to say what they were like since the only light came through a 1in peephole in the door. For all I knew there were Laura Ashley curtains in there and an elegant ottoman at the end of the bed.
Sadly, as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, it became apparent that this wasn’t so. In fact, there was nothing but a bed made from stone, a mattress made from wood and a hole in the floor near which several previous occupants had relieved themselves.
Boredom set in within about five minutes. I couldn’t even pass the time by trying to hang myself because they’d taken my shoelaces and belt. And cruelly, they’d taken my lighter, too, leaving me only with the cigarettes. The solution was sleep, but this was impossible because if I used my jacket as a pillow it was freezing, and if I kept it on I got a cricked neck.
Sleep was also impossible because one of my friends in the next cell had decided to run, noisily, through a list of battles in which the English had beaten the French. Sadly, we ran out of ideas after Quiberon and Agincourt, and anyway, my enormously swollen nose testified to the fact that in the only battle that mattered that night, we were losing badly.
At around seven in the morning — though because they had taken my watch as well, it might have been four — I decided to order breakfast. So I waded through the effluent and through the small hole in the door said I’d like toast, buttered to the edges, poached eggs, some fresh orange juice, a double espresso and my bloody lighter back. What I got instead was a burly French finger in my eye.
Eventually, though, the door was unlocked, and having been made to sign the visitors’ book, I scarpered, leaving my hosts to wonder if they had really had Donald Duck in the cells all night.
So did the painful and humiliating experience cure my occasional twentysomething need to binge drink? Well, exactly 12 months later I was in the back of a police car in Spain, planning another escape attempt. So you’d have to say no.
What did cure me is what will cure all the youngsters that binge drink today.
I grew up.