Thursday, 15 May 2008
We had a lovely few days in the countryside staying with the Frenchman's friends, cruel jibes about mothers who leave their child's toys on the train and the French equivalent of "Call Social Services" jokes, notwithstanding.
At one point we were among a dozen guests staying in our hosts' stone farmhouse not including them, their two grown-up children, two cats and a dog. The highlight was a barbecue for which another twenty friends and locals appeared. Just the thought of that many people descending for lunch makes me want to lie down in a dark room, but it was all very French. Guests given house room were enlisted to lay tables, organise music, man the barbecue and take some of the pressure off the hosts; the local boulangerie produced an industrial-sized apple tart and a round of milky white farmer's brie on waxed paper the size of a car wheel wound its way from table to table. Two of the guests, both retired, trundled up the drive in an old Citroen 2CV whose clackety-clack engine we could hear coming a mile off (make that a kilometer). Conversations stopped and heads turned as the car the British called the Tin Snail, the Germans The Duck and the French 'Four Wheels under an Umbrella' spluttered to a halt on the gravel drive and a trim-waisted woman in her sixties wearing a wanton crimson dress and with waist-length flaxon hair jumped from the driver's seat.
Later, hours after the sun had set, around 20 of us moved inside to the kitchen table and began eating - and drinking - again. Some time in the early hours of the morning the singing started. This is a ritual that begins with someone saying something along the lines of: "40 Brel", "25 Gainsbourg", "17 Aznavour" suggesting the number of songs they know by a particular singer. Other guests then raise bids as in an auction. Thankfully they sing only snatches of each, but it still went on until 4am or 5am, as it always does. I can't be more precise because I bailed out, as I usually do, before someone pointed at me and said: "Ze Beetles", which they always do.