I have just found a gateway to hell and would like to report its existence to the appropriate authorities. It is located at the Centre d’Animation of the Grange aux Belles swimming pool in Paris.
It all started when the Frog and I decided that we should sign up to do some sort of ‘activity’ with the Tadpole. The childminder does lots of fun things during the week while we are at work, attending playgroups, story time at the library, participating in a fancy dress carnival for Mardi Gras… We were feeling a little bit jealous/guilty that we don’t do a great deal apart from feed and clothe her. So we decided upon bébé nageurs (baby swimmers). It means getting up at some unfeasibly early hour on a weekend, but if that was what it took…
As I am the one who does all the organising in this relationship (find me a woman who doesn’t?) I called the swimming pool in late September 2003, naïvely assuming we could roll up on any given Saturday and join in. “All weekend sessions are full, please call back in June 2004 for information on signing up from September 2004”, said the lady on the phone in a bored voice. I duly called: registration would take place on Monday 6 September from 11 am. A work day. Helpful. I was feeling relatively calm and confident about the whole thing until an acquaintance explained that most of the places had already been allocated to people like her who had already signed up the previous year, so competition for the few remaining places would be fierce. She (smugly) added that it was excellent, fabulous, really worth doing. I was starting to panic now. If I couldn’t get the Tadpole signed up, I was a bad parent. I called the Centre repeatedly to see how bad the situation was and got only a recorded message.
D day finally arrived today. I arrived at 10.15am, inwardly congratulating myself on being 45 minutes early, but as I drew closer to the entrance I saw to my horror that there were was a huge crowd of people in front of it, complete with pushchairs and screaming babies, all holding numbered tickets in their hands.
The French, as you will have heard, don’t do queues. What they do love is a numbered ticket (like the ones you get at the deli counter in Tesco). Mine bore the number 65. Rumour had it that ticketholder n° 1 had arrived at 7am, or spent the entire night there, depending on who you spoke to. As if it were the Harrods Sale. I took a look at the noticeboard and my worst fears were confirmed. Of the three weekend groups for Tadpole’s age group, two were already full. Ten places remained for the last session. 64 people in front of me. It would only take ten of these to want what I wanted…. Should I stay or should I go?
I chose to stay. 10 people went in at a time. And took a long time to emerge. The minutes stretched into hours. I hadn’t come prepared with food, drink or a book. By 1.30pm they had let ticket holders 50-60 into the building. I’d got this far so I was going to grit my teeth and see it through to the end. I warned the man on the door that if I had waited 4 hours only to leave empty handed, I would probably have to be dragged from the building kicking and screaming, wearing a straitjacket.
Happy ending: I signed her up. At 2pm. And arrived 4 and a half hours late to work. The Tadpole will never know the pain I went through to sign her up for this. I can honestly say that it was an experience to rival childbirth.
I have formulated a cunning plan for next year. I’m going to swing by at 7am and take the first 10 tickets, go back to bed and then return at 11.00 and sell them all to the highest bidders.