When I was little, my mum used to use a brand of perfume named "Panache". It took me a while to learn what the word panache meant, but since I could read by the age of one and a half, I used to enjoy trying to pronounce unusual words. Things like "smoking", "shark" and "manilla envelope" I had no trouble with, but - for some reason, "panache" escaped me. I ended up saying something like "paschy" (/pæ'ʃiː/), and since my mum had two sizes of perfume bottle (for reasons that elude me even to this day), I named them "big paschy and little paschy". I used to talk to them while brushing my teeth. This I remember.
Fast forward eleven years and you'll find me in year 8 - still talking to inanimate objects, still reading practically everything and still aware of the existence of manilla envelopes. In the slightly darkened corridors of my cavernous secondary school, while lining up for a French lesson, I overheard two of my main tormentors - the bully who gave me trouble and the... well, the other one... - talking with glee and zest about panache.
"Hey, ILB! How's your panache?" one of them yelled.
Half of me almost thought of thanking them for complementing me on my fashionable style and joie de vivre, but I conceded that was unlikely. Unwilling to engage them any further, I tried to think of a way to end the conversation right there, and into the other half of my brain rocketed a distant memory of two bottles of perfume in the bathroom cupboard.
Big Paschy and Little Paschy.
"Panache? Why, that's a kind of perfume!" I said, as brightly as possible.
Both bullies looked as if I'd just suggested that I'd won the lottery and would be giving them all my winnings. Confused at why the mention of perfume would be cause for them to share an evil grin, I started to turn away.
"Hey, ILB! Have you smelled your dad's panache?" came the voice of Bully #1.
"It's not my dad's," I replied, making things much worse for myself without realising. "It's my mum's."
"Hey, ILB!" said Bully #2, in a mock serious tone but shaking with fits of suppressed laughter. "Have you smelled your mum's panache?"
"I..." I started to reply, and then paused. Had I, at any point, considered the distinctive scent of oddly-named eau de parfum? Probably not. Whatever "panache" meant to the bullies (and I was beginning to get a pretty clear idea by now), I just had to answer "no", and that would be that.
"Yes," I said.
"And what does it smell like?" asked Bully #1, in a voice so loud that the rest of the class, and even several members of staff, turned around.
"Well, like perfume, I suppose... what else is it supposed to smell like?" I said, confused.
At which point the lesson started, and we filed into the classroom, both bullies now howling with laughter and being asked to remain outside because they were making too much noise.
Unfortunately, this happened in the morning, and this gave them the chance to repeat, over and over again, the story of how I'd smelled my mum's panache, and it was like perfume. I was on hand, of course, to verify this story, becoming more and more confused as to why this was at all funny - in most cases, the audience seemed to agree with this, either unfamiliar with the euphemism itself or just not thinking that teasing me was particularly funny.
Nobody really liked me, so I suspect it was the former.
Eventually, of course, the bell rang and I managed to escape to make my way home... at which point I typically realised exactly what these bullies had decided the word "panache" meant. Resolving never, ever, ever to use that word again - and, in fact, to limit my vocabulary severely in case something like "fishslice" or "dishcloth" or "Spanish omelette" had some unscrupulous double meaning invented by whomsoever had decided to pick on me on whichever day it was.
As I made my way towards my bedroom, I checked the bathroom shelves for signs of Panache. My mum, it seemed, had switched to something named "Fiji" (which may not had has the same ring: "have you smelled your mum's fiji?") - but, after a bit of searching, I did manage to unearth Little Paschy, still there, and still unopened.
And as I lay in bed that night, I fervently thanked God that I'd conveniently forgotten to confirm that my mum had a Big Panache.