Evening in Normandy. Sick of staring at the beach in a melancholy fashion, and sighing occasionally, the CFO and I are watching cheap, derivative French television programmes.
First, "L'amour est dans le pré" where a variety of farmers with the social skills of mountain goats enlist a production company to try and find them spouses. There is some extremely ill-advised knitwear on show and a number of skull deformities reminiscent of a Flaubert short story. Predictably the success rate is approximately zero, and I learn that French agricultural types are surprisingly fussy. Possession of the requisite number of limbs and sufficient upper body strength to assist in inseminating sows is not enough for them, oh no. The successful candidate must also have a working knowledge of three European languages and tantric sex and enjoy reading aloud from Goethe on the long winter evenings. The unedifying scene at the end of the programme where all the inexplicably still single agriculteurs gather to get drunk and generate sparks with their acrylic jumpers is particularly poignant.
Next, to my delight, we move on to the French version of How to Look Good Naked. It is like a gift wrapped present to delight me on a Monday night. From the very first minutes, the differences with the UK version are apparent. The UK candidates are usually properly ordinary looking and the programme is based on Gok Wan jollying them along like a demented self-esteem cheerleader and making them wear a reasonably fitting bra. After that, they cover them in fake tan and make them pose with a sheet draped around them. It's an all girls together, self-acceptance feel good type of programme. In the first French episode I watch, the sad, body dysmorphic subject looks rather like a slightly rounder, very large breasted Naomi Campbell. She is absolutely gorgeous, with those turny uppy corner feline eyes and an amazing, angular face. She does not like her breasts. They turn too many heads. The French Gok sweeps in, narrows his eyes and purses his lips, and appraises her.
"Ah, yes. I see. You do have quelques défauts [a few flaws]. You have a belly, and large hips. And these breasts, though they are very desirable, are very very large. However, with my help I will teach you to cover up your défauts".
The next half hour is a catalogue of how to walk with a sultry swing so your unacceptably large arse is not visible and a paen to the power of very shiny accessories to redirect attention. However the real star of the show, and the two that follow is the "Gaine". The Gaine is like magic pants, but far, far more terrifying. Indeed at one point in some attempt at clarification the screen carries small print stating "culotte magique = gaine", presumably indicating that the Académie Française has not accepted culotte magique as correct French usage. The French Gok holds up a Gaine like it is the Holy Grail and waves it in the poor woman's face. The gaine is a vast expanse of slightly shiny beige elastic. It shimmers menacingly at the camera.
"This is what you need! With a gaine you will lose, ooh, at least two dress sizes around your very large hips!"
The lingerie shop woman, in severe glasses and a tailored black suit nods her agreement, and marches the poor Naomi Campbell lady into a changing room. We see a titantic struggle ensuing behind the gauzy curtain as the French Gok stalks around playing with various undergarments. The curtain is drawn back and Naomi hobbles out, barely able to move due to the constricting magic of spandex.
There is much oohing and aahing at her terrifyingly firm midsection. Gok pulls up her top to admire the miracle of engineering at work. An involuntary gasp escapes me - the woman is entirely covered in beige spandex. There is no skin visible between shoulder and mid thigh. Gok and the lingerie dominatrix admire their handiwork. They make her go back and put a negligée on top of the gaine to admire her new line.
"But, but.. Surely she wouldn't actually wear that IN BED???" the CFO says in horror.
"Quite possibly" I say, seduced by the magic of the gaine. "It might cure CANCER, or even better, CELLULITE".
In the next episode, this time with a beautifully blonde, probably UK size 12 at the absolute outside, who is bemoaning her over rounded buttocks, the Gaine once more demonstrates its redemptive magic.
I turn, with slightly appalled delight to the CFO.
"Does this not all seem slightly, um, un PC? All this talk of défauts? Aren't they supposed to be learning to love their bodies?"
"This is France" says the CFO complacently "Here we teach them to hide their unacceptable flaws in a gaine. Or conceal them behind a sparkly handbag. I'm surprised they don't give out gaines at the border".
Fresh from this revelation, I looked at my underwear drawer with a slightly jaundiced eye this morning. Where is the voluminous shiny beige corsetry? How long before I give in to the siren song of the gaine? Thankfully, there are only two days left of our holiday.