Nicholas Pelham: The first time I spoke to her she was listening to Laura Marling

‘The first time I spoke to her she was listening to Laura Marling. She’s destroyed Laura Marling for me forever.  I’ve never even really been a big fan of Laura Marling.  I like her music and all, but she’s from the wrong era.  You know how it is.’

‘But who is she?’

‘I don’t think it’s relevant somehow.’

‘How can it not be relevant?’

‘Well, I laid eyes on her, and I knew she was everything I’d wanted to meet for my whole life.  She’s French.’

‘What does her nationality have to do with it?’

‘What doesn’t her nationality have to do with it?’

‘Who’s to say.’

‘Well, I learned of her vegetarianism in the breath directly preceding my learning of the existence of her boyfriend, who is apparently on the scene.’


‘He’s Spanish.  She wants to stay in Australia after her one year contract that she is currently undertaking.  I say, having a Spanish boyfriend is useless to her.’

‘You’re probably right.’

‘At the end of the day though, she’s too attractive for me anyway.  I could never live up to that expectation.  And she seems taller than me, just because she’s slim and brunette and beautiful, but, she’s only my height.  I’ve never seen her in high heeled shoes, which is good because I do not find these terribly becoming on women, particularly slim, brunette, beautiful women who are roughly my height but seem taller.  High heeled shoes are the scourge of the male gender.  Well, the short members of the male gender anyway, and we all know what Bob Dylan says about thin men.’

‘If women choose to wear high heeled shoes surely this is their right.’

‘Yes.  But, they blame the male fashion designers for the subsequent health issues that in time arise.’

‘Ah yes.’

‘Yes.  I presume you have seen A Current Affair on at least one occasion.  But hopefully not Today Tonight.’

‘As a matter of fact, that’s correct.’

‘Yes.  Say...’

I trailed off there.  This is the story of some love affair.  It involves Bob Dylan in some way, and Laura Marling, and Bonnie Prince Billy (in all his guises), and Scout Niblett, and Joanna Newsom, and Leonard Cohen, and SoKo, and Serge Gainsbourg, and a small city to the north of France that I have never caught the name of due to barriers to effective communication that arise due to the accent of some love of mine.  Some love of my life.  I also don’t think she wants me to know the name of her city.  She has her reasons and all are well grounded.  No one wants to be stalked and subsequently strung up by one recently freed from some mental institution.  It was only a minimum-security facility anyway.  I could have quite easily made my escape at any hour of my choosing, but I did my time because that’s just the type of man I am.

I forced myself upon my true love. Having waited my whole life to find some French girl, any French girl, to lay eyes upon one in such a perfect environment meant that I had to find a way to break in with her. I didn’t see this opportunity for two weeks or so.  Even then, I sat down beside her, and she had headphones on, and she was reluctant to take these out.  When I kept on talking, she somewhat felt obliged to take said headphones out. She advised me to whom she was listening to.  I missed this due to the accent that I had always longed to hear spoken directly to me.  Later, I learned that she had been listening to Laura Marling. ‘Yes, I know Laura Marling.’  At the end of the day though, the best relationships are forged from situations where communication is rendered impossible…due to any number of reasons.

I don’t approve of the technological device known as the ‘I-pod’ due to a moral high ground.  However, my love is in possession of the said technological device.  Anything my love chooses to do, I forgive.  After discovering she was a fan of Laura Marling, I knew that she had the potential for not only being French but also being worthy of my attention.  I asked her what other artists she was fond of.  Perhaps because she was aware that there was a language barrier present, rather than speaking the names of the artists that she was fond of, she showed me their names on her technological device.  I like to remember that the first she showed to me was Bob Dylan, but it could just be that this is the first that I recall because the previous few were of no consequence or relevance.  It was at that point that I asked her if she was fond of Leonard Cohen, to which she replied, yes, but I have none of his songs on my technological device.  She then showed me Serge Gainsbourg’s name, and I knew she was the one.  But, everyone in France likes Serge Gainsbourg—I learned this from her.  Well, everyone likes Serge Gainsbourg in France, except some.  Her choice of Bob Dylan album was none too impressive, being ‘the essential’, or whatever it is called, but it worked for me.  The essential of Bob Dylan is every track that he has ever laid down on record and then some others.  This love of mine taught me a great deal about Serge Gainsbourg.  Serge Gainsbourg is a demigod in France.  I am the most important French artist in France who isn’t French.

I feel more French than I have ever felt Australian, but I do not feel French.  I am not French.  I am a refugee born to the wrong homeland.  Australia isn’t a homeland.  Australia is a convict settlement where only those the likes of me can prosper, and if you call my existence prospering, I question your definition.  All I ever wanted from life was a French girl and I found said the French girl and she was unattainable.  As a friend of mine said, someone who I thought may have been an alternative to my love, ‘what’s she with a Spanish guy for?  That’s not very exotic.’  This girl is also French and vegetarian, and I am taller than this girl.  She somewhat has a Melanie Pain look to her.  If Melanie Pain offered me her hand in marriage I would gladly accept it.  If Emilie Simon married me and subsequently I decided to take her surname, I would be known as Simon Simon.  If Emilie Simon married me and subsequently decided to take my first name as her surname, she would not be obliged, through the traditional values of marriage, to change her name.  I am tall enough for Melanie Pain but not Emilie Simon, and at this moment in time, I need a slice of bread.

It took eight months for me to hear my love say my name.  She heard me say her name at least once every day that I laid eyes on her.  This gesture of mine was always less significant than hers promised to be.  She said my name indirectly.  We were speaking of Emilie Simon, and she said, Emilie Simon.  I like the sound of my name as proffered by the French and only the French.  The following day my love directly said my name, and she said it in a variation of the French way, which was delightful to my ears.  ‘Hi Simon, it’s Mona.  I can’t come to school today.  I’m sick.  Please tell Veronique and the French teachers that I won’t be at school.  Okay.  Bye.’  The beginning of what Mona said is correct.  At some point, I lost it.  I still have the message.  It will never be deleted.  If ever I need to hear a French woman say my name, that message will always be available to me.  If ever I need to hear my love say my name, that message will always be available to me.  It was a blessing that I wasn’t around to receive said voice mail message, and it was a blessing that I didn’t see her that day.

I recently heard an anecdote from a girl who was in a brief relationship of about two weeks with a French guy.  He had come to Melbourne for work and had taken to win the affections of as many Melbourne women as possible.  He had a pre-existing lover in France, apparently.  So, this girl I know, she received a telephone call one night from a French girl, who subsequently took to abusing her for some time.  If a French girl ever took to abusing me, I would be happy to say, please continue all night long my dear.  If I could, I would spend the rest of my life speaking to a French girl.  If one had to choose by whom to be abused, it would be a French girl – hands down.


Until recently, I somewhat wondered if women found the accent of Frenchmen as appealing as men find the accent of Frenchwomen.  I had been thinking for some time that I only know Frenchwomen and not Frenchmen, but then I remembered that my hairdresser is a Frenchman.  He’s lost his accent though.  Anyway, so I met a few French guys at a function that I was at, and one, upon hearing him speak, I thought, yes, that is a nice accent—that would melt the heart of any free thinking, able-bodied woman.  It melts the heart of me.

‘So, what became of this love of yours?’


‘That love of yore, that you’ve been discussing at length.’

‘Oh, her?  I don’t know.  I never saw her again after the fourteenth day of December.  I marked this date on my calendar in August.  Call me a morose rapscallion if you must, but I like to know when my end of time is to come to pass.’

‘I don’t call you anything.’

‘And that’s lucky for you because this could mean nothing to you but hardship and strife.’

‘But, how’s that?’

‘Well, you don’t need to worry, do you?  If you did, you would have seen the wrath, but not understood the cause.’



This love and I, we spent many good times together, not enough by my reckoning, but too much by hers.  Of her, there remained a hope; of her, all hope was lost.  The timing of our meeting was highly dubious.  The timing seemed too perfect to put into words.  I had recently lost something that could never be replaced.  This love would not have replaced what was lost, and no love could ever have lived alongside what was lost.  Upon learning of my love’s unattainability, I subsequently fell into a state of heartache such as has never been experienced by the likes of me.  I drew on that heartache for inspiration for all it was worth and still, do.  I also subsequently bid my god one final adieu.  Any god that mocks me to the extent that my god mocks me is not worth my time and attention, of which I proffered little, to begin with, by my reckonings.  I advised him of this decision, and to this date, I still take it upon myself to smile wryly to the heavens on occasion when situations arise of the utter scorn that only he is capable of and of which only he can conceive of.  When the day of judgment befalls us, I am in the direst of all situations.  God acknowledges the petty atheist.  He even acknowledges the petty agnostic, who is even pettier than the petty atheist.  This god, in his wisdom, forgives all the sinners against his parchments.  The only soul that this god does not forgive is he who believes in his existence but refuses him.  I accept this lot that is self-inflicted, and I welcome my day of judgment.  I’ll see you in hell, you old rapscallion.

But earlier this evening, when I was doing the dishes, and I had the SYN TV program on, that I believe is called ‘the 1700’, on my television set, and Laura Marling’s ‘Rambling Man’ came on, I looked to the heavens, with my wry smile, and I said, ‘what a god damned joke’.  ‘Rambling Man’ is a great song, but it will never soothe me as it should.  It will always bring to my eyes the face of my love, whom I have never seen a smile, and whom I have never heard a laugh, but of whom I have heard her say my name twice, once indirectly in person and once directly over the telephone.  The mockery is ever present, and this god and I share the same sense of humour.  Our long-running joke stands, and my love did not know SoKo until I introduced them to each other. 

Nicholas Pelham is an Australian who now lives in Paris, France. He is a curator of blog and in the process of creating an indie press newspaper focusing on the live music scene of Paris, as well as a few unpublished books.

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