Paradise Lost

Sunlight twinkled on the glassy water and tiny, gentle, almost imperceptibly flickering waves disturbed the surface in a way that merely accentuated its flawless imperfection. The mountains rose on all sides of the lake like craggy titans clustered around a mirror, transfixed by their own mighty reflections. It was hot and the air shimmered and shone, and if you wanted to cool off then you had to do nothing more than dive in to the welcoming depths of the great expanse.

We had arrived at Lake Hallstatt that morning after several days driving around Western Europe visiting Paris, Munich and Zurich; and after the hustle of the cities the almost deserted calmness of the mountain lakes was a balm to the soul. Like a hug from your girlfriend after watching an England match. We had rented a car from Charles De Gaulle airport (advice to any road tripper in Europe: rent your car from an airport dealer, it’s far cheaper) and were a week into a trip that would take in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and then all the countries on the way up to Russia and back. We didn’t have much money for such a lengthy journey so had been using the rental car to sleep in most nights, which was reasonably comfortable but lacking in a little privacy between two of us in a three door Citroen. There was nowhere to do any of the things you need hot running water and five minutes on your own to do. Like wash or change clothes.

So it was with barely supressed joy that we (my friend David and I) pulled up to the banks of the Austrian lake. How superior to a shower in a dingy hostel to plunge headfirst into the water here. In most other places this sort of scenery would guarantee droves of tourists, but in the Austrian and Bavarian Alps in the summer you can barely drive the distance of Southend seafront down a winding mountain road without stumbling upon another picture perfect setting.

After donning swimming shorts we climbed into the water and splashed around, then spotted a rusty old diving board. An Austrian man blowing up a large dinghy while his young family played nearby were the only other people around, and we smiled at them as we passed. Not a lifeguard in sight. Dave grinned, and shimmied out onto the end of it. The water looked awfully shallow underneath. I grimaced. “Are you sure that’s going to be alright?”

He lowered his arms like a professional and intoned loudly in the style of a TV commentator: “Tom Daley…” then leapt up, bounced once, slipped and fell off backwards and head first with a despairing cry which was cut abruptly short by the crash of body on water.

“Je-sus,” I cried and ran to the edge, ready for the worst. Until I saw a grinning face looking up at me.

“Ha! That was great!” Dripping, he pulled himself from the water. “You should try it!” I could hear the Austrian children giggling behind me and cracked a smile.

“Yeah maybe later” I replied, and settled down to read a book.

“I’m going to the loo.” He wandered off. Ten minutes later he was back.

“Well that was rather embarrassing,” he said, then crouched behind a large bush.

“Hm, what was?” I mumbled absently, absorbed in a particularly salient and cutting passage of Proust.

“Well, when I went to the toilet I thought it would be nice to have a quick bash as well.”

I knew what this meant.

“You mean you m#sturbated in the toilets here in the beautiful, picturesque, tranquil mountains?”

“Er, yes. Then, afterwards, I thought that there’s hardly a soul in the vicinity so I started washing my p#nis in the sink, and I was kind of splashing water on it because I couldn’t get it under the tap,” in his crouched position he mimed a cupping and splashing gesture, “when that Austrian woman walked in with her children.”

I stared at him. “Ok. So. You went into the ladies toilets, accidently I presume…”

“Yes I’m afraid my German is a little rusty,” he interjected, “It’s alright though: I believe she thought I was simple or something. I’ll just hide here for a bit.”

I saw the woman talking to her husband and looking pointedly in my direction. I looked at Dave hunched behind the bush in his swimming shorts.

“I think we should leave now.”

R Gibson

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