Despite her astonishingly rich hormone saturated voice, huge sad eyes and generous body, to me she seemed oddly insecure, a little girl seeking reassurance and support. So we older band members, Warren and I basically, rostered ourselves to chaperone her when she went ashore.
We were billed as Renee Geyer and the Daly Wilson Small Band on the Oriana in 1972. My first cruise and an adventure that was at once fun and a revelation. It shattered any expectation I had of the mythical South Sea Island Paradise but the band was good and Renee was sensational.
In Numea, I was rostered on as Renee searched for denim and French perfume. We found a denim shop and she started. An attendant hovered as vests and jeans were ripped from racks, tried then discarded. Several times she asked for help from the Frenchman, who seemed to have no English. He shrugged at each question and occasionally spoke to her in French. Some I understood from my very limited schoolboy French but did not have the confidence to translate.
His agitation grew in proportion to the height of the pile of discarded garments. Renee’s disappointment expressed itself as ‘What a heap of crap’ or ‘I wouldn’t wear any of this shit’, until it became too much for the Frenchman, who demanded in impeccable English:
“Get out of my shop!”
Well, that was that for denim, so it was down to the old town for perfume where she chose enough to last a decade and it was time to pay. She had no cash and with no EFTPOS or ATM, it was off to the bank. We had no idea where we would find a bank on a Saturday afternoon in Numea, so I accosted the first person we saw, a little old lady, and asked for directions.
“Ou est le…” Shit! I couldn’t remember the word for bank, if I had ever known it.
My teacher, Old Scotty, WWI veteran of many battles in France, probably learnt his French from locals with whom he needed to communicate for whatever reason, spent more time telling us of his wartime exploits than the intricacies of French Grammar.
However, we did do a lot of work on tables and chairs, doors and windows and I did pass my exams. But I swear Scotty did not mention banks. I was at a loss. Maybe money would give her a clue, so I showed her an Australian twenty while repeating my question.
“Ou est le…” She looked horrified. Well! I don’t know what she thought but it was not nice.
“Non! Non!” She objected. “Non! Non!” Her vehemence hinted at some sinister interpretation of my intentions so it was my turn to object.
“Non! Non! Excusez-mois,” says me. “Je chercher le … bank, le bank.”
The franc dropped.
“Sacre bleu! Le banc! Le banc!” She threw her hands in the air in true Gallic manner and took off. She walked so fast we struggled to keep up, as she led for at least a kilometre, stopping outside a squat granite building where she smiled and indicated its closed doors.
“Le banc est ferme!”
“Merci.” I thanked her as she turned away, her duty done.
Renee was disappointed and I was laughing.
“Le banc est ferme”, I repeated.
If there was one thing old Scotty taught well, it was the difference between ferme and ouvert.
For a young man in a foreign country, they were very useful words indeed.
But in 1914 France, I guess it wasn’t a bank Scotty needed.