Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What Became of Betty Beecham?

When I wrote about this incident, it brought back memories of my old friend Betty Beecham.

Betty Beecham was French, her real name was not Betty, nor Beecham; in fact I don’t think she even knew her own name anymore. But we christened her with this name. She lived outside Monoprix in La Rochelle, next to the Gros Horloge.

(Must ask Sylvie if she has come across her)

She was dirty, sickly looking, in her 50’s, and she was without a doubt, an alcoholic.

Monoprix was so close to where we lived that we would pass it every single day, which meant that every single day we would see Betty. She was often sitting on a step next to the building, making Monoprix customers choose the other door. She usually had a bottle of cheap rosé wine in her hand and she was quite the popular madame with her fellow homeless friends. It seemed they all looked out for her, sharing what little amount of food they had with her.

Somedays Betty would shout at us, incoherent French words slurring from her mouth. Her bedroom was in a shop doorway. If I was walking home late at night I’d almost die of a heart attack when she screamed at me from the darkness of her bedroom. I always wondered how the person who came to open the shop in the morning would react when they were confronted with this small, bizarre little woman, who sadly did not seem to belong to anyone, anywhere.

At the beginning, the first couple of times that we set eyes on Betty, I’m sad to say, we were disgusted. In Scotland the ‘tramps’ are identified by their old clothes, or by Big Issue magazines in their hands. Betty was in a league of her own.

Sometimes we would smell her before we saw her; a stale alcohol scent mixed in with what I can only describe as a putrid vomit inducing stench.

One day my flatmates and I had gone to Monoprix to pick up some alcohol for a party we were going to have that night. As we entered the shop we sniffed the air. Normally, Monoprix stinks, yes. But of French cheese. This time the smell was different. It was so awful and so strong I swear there was a cloud of green floating around.

Smells rise in the air (don’t they?) so we kept our heads down low and tried to hold our breaths as we navigated towards the alcohol section.

Low and behold, there was Betty.

It was the first time I’d seen her in a totally different context compared to her usual two spots on the street, and the first time I’d seen her so closely. Her appearance up close was a thousand times worse than what she normally looked like from a further distance.

I became quite upset. Now, either it was my overwhelming emotions, or it was the overwhelming smell, but I had tears in my eyes.

Although I was scared of her I often felt the urge to take her home and clean her up; give her a good bath, a comfortable bed and some hot dinners. I never did, of course.

Then in November Betty disappeared.

(to be continued...)


T.D. Newton said...

Someday I want to see the world. Then I shall have someone shout at me in an incoherent "foreign" language.

Being from small-town America is really discouraging.

sylvie d said...

how weird! Betty is in fact Marie-Ange ....she now has an armchair and sits opposite Monoprix...local shop keepers look after her and give her warm blankets and food.
She does shout at people and can barely stand up, les Rochelais think she is part of the "furniture"...
Talking of Monoprix have you ever felt being followed by the non discreet shop spies????? they are so hilarious...I am almost self-conscious of putting items in my basket...when day I might even apopogize!

Princesse Ecossaise said...

My God!! I knew you'd have come across her! How nice that she now has an armchair and people look after her, although she really does not look like a Marie-Ange! Ahhhh it's nice to know she's still there, she really is part of the whole La Rochelle experience!

Those Monoprix spies!! I thought they only watched us because we are foreign!! It made me really nervous!

I'm so happy to know that the place has not changed a bit!!