OF WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR MAN WHEN HE LEFT THE INN AND FOUND A WEASEL AND A FOX CUB FROM GALAXY FOUR.
A night of alternate peace and fearful misunderstanding; we had accepted willingly a two bed bedroom for three; a disturbing and uncomfortable night that can make you rather late for breakfast. For once though I had no unwanted visitors; just another good night to sleep deep. Then morning came, another sad awakening to swathes of crumpled bed linen, bright sunlight, an unlikely solitude and an atmosphere of such confusion that a man so close at hand felt no more than a motion away.
I don’t think I have ever spoken to Steve much before late afternoon. Now I know why. Like all avid newspaper readers, the early morning was his time to entertain people with interesting and little known facts:
“did you know there is only one variety of banana? The Mark Cavendish, did you know…?”
He even tried
it on with the waiter.
” Le saviez-vous ? vingt cinq pour cent des Tellytubbies sont rouge?”
Then back to me, a coffee and croissant cocktail dribbling down his chin.
“I don't know, but I've been told that a big legged woman ain’t got no soul?”
“That’s just hearsay Steve I interrupted, and by the way, did you know….”
His face lit up, I was playing too! I didn’t have the heart to go on. But honestly, what an athlete, six bottles of wine in his bloodstream was like a hot cocoa and gingerbread nightcap to this drug infested maniac.
Then it was time to wake Taz the only way we could, the old cold pig treatment, a bucket of very chill water. “We need to get your bike back.”
The directions to “Chez Maurin” sounded strange, but simple enough,
towards Les Couillons, turn left at the sequoia then just
keep following the track for about three kilometres, but
beware of a tallish tanned man with one black foot!"
I didn’t expect those jumblegut forest paths to be a particularly easy ride, but when we finally pulled up outside his humble dwelling, me with Taz strapped on to the luggage rack, my balls felt like that celebrated pair of maracas. Steve was just fine, he had finally received his justly deserved free croissants and had pedaled his mount all the way without any help from the motor on the strength of them.
We were here on business, sure, but the beauty of the place left me a little lost for words. The house was what is known in this part of the world as a cabanon, not quite a house, but more than just a cabin. An ancient two storey stone built affair, carefully restored and if you were lucky enough for the thing to appear on nineteenth century Napoleonic records, even the local authorities tended to say ‘aw who gives a thing anyway?’ So it was legal, but not exactly 83, Royal Gardens. A dwelling place to be sure, but not a house because it didn’t really exist. But it did.
This tiny home was set in a small clearing in an otherwise dense and oddly beautiful cork oak forest. There was not a sound to be heard in these weird wintery woodlands save the indistinct flittering sound of snow falling softly on the trees. It had been snowing for a little while, a light fine, watery snow, that covered the rugged branches like frozen veins and spread a silvery covering over their leafy boughs and feeble tops, leaving us below with a thin white magic carpet ride that made the endless silence still more intense. Here lived a herd of browsing critters: two donkeys, a handful of sheep and a couple of piss poor goats. A huge parasol pine hung immobile over the house and its huge terrace, overlooking, I will spare you a cliched description of the glistening turquoise Mediterranean below, but honestly, it was stunning. Looking about us, even Steve was touched to see a little basket by the front door containing a tiny fox cub and a pair of cheeky little weasels, completely tame and highly trained to deal with unwanted visitors. The place was clearly way off the grid; we had seen no sign of a mailbox, no cables or posts for miles around, just a beautifully crafted stone well and the pleasingly aromatic scent of fig wood burning on a fire within. All this just confirmed my previous notion that we were dealing with a thoroughly extraordinary fellow and Steve renewing his monotonous complaints of hopelessness and douchebaggery.
Taz had had enough of our dumb and admiring procrastination and was preparing to give boot to the hardwood door .
“Just give me my bike back, butt head!”
miscalculated on two counts, one, the door was not actually
closed and two, had she not been clad head to toe in thick
biker leather, those weasels would surely have ripped her
flesh. She escaped with just the humiliation of being picked
up and dusted down by the powerful but gentle hands of the
“Beautiful Zelda from galaxy four suddenly broke down my door!” He greeted us in an oddly incongruous south London accent, “welcome my friends.”
We were not friends, this was awkward. He then offered us an aperitif, and noticing the look of pure torment on all our faces, quickly added, “no, not that sort, I meant something that really will give you a great appetite,” pointing as he spoke to a roughly hewn cork platter stacked high with little greeny-brown and misshapen Easter eggs.
“That’s horse-shit you moron!”
“Taz!” I reprimanded her as severely as a hungover father can tax his own beautiful and so recently mortified daughter.
“No!” she said almost apologetically, “I mean it really is horse shit, can’t you tell? Does anyone truly believe that I am going to eat that………..”
“Ass crap," Maurin intervened, “nicely dried out and cured, it is almost certainly the finest thing you will have ever smoked.”
Not at all convinced, but relieved that it was not edibilia, we took our places at a long monastic table and Maurin produced a, well, fat-boy is not the word, this thing really should be eating more fruit and vegetables. Five a day! With just one toke, Taz knew instantly what was in the joint and precisely where it had come from. Steve and I braced ourselves for a distinctive and all too familiar foul-mouthed onslaught, a blunt and debilitating 'suggestion du jour' but were to be disappointed.
As the big thing did its rounds, the magic followed: Taz was serene, smiley and hardly abrasive or rude at all, Steve was more than ever convinced that even if the world was a mess, his hair was nothing short of perfect. A wondrous substance indeed! Maurin was explaining, as if it were even necessary, how one of his donkeys, Nucky by name, had returned after a three day absence, stoned out of his extremely tiny mind and had not stopped laying these golden nuggets ever since.
“I call them Nucky Balls!” Maurin informed us, smiling broadly.
I forgot to mention that by this time, I myself was feeling sweeter than sugar magnolia and wiser than the Grateful Dead. It has been twelve long years since I last smoked marijuana and I felt so strong, manipulative and superior that I demanded an immediate and private interview with Nucky the funky junky donkey. A little while later we all began to realise just how hungry we were and our genial host responded with the makings of a feast which turned into full blown banquet. Plate after plate of Daube de sanglier, Faisan en croûte, civet de lapin….A huge jar of tiny goat cheeses in olive oil, freshly picked rocket salad and some odd but truly delicious bright orange mushrooms lightly grilled in his figgy fireplace. All of this washed willfully down with a most respectable red from his large personal vat. A triumph Maurin! Really.
The table talk was a buzz of undecipherable nonsense as we slobbered and slurped away into a delightful state of well-being, or sod it, why not? Bien-être. It was Maurin, once again who inevitably broke the spell: “I want to join your club!” he blurted, “you know, the Idiot Bastard Sons of Anarchy, I want in!”
Inevitable but still unexpected, Steve looked at him crossly and told him that, “we don’t let just anybody become a member you know."
I said, “try that again Steve but without the ‘just’ bit.”
“Oh dad, don’t be such a rotter, that’s simply unfair, why don’t you try him on one of your world famous tests? Quiz the man!”
“Goody, goody, I love tests.” Maurin joked in a perfect imitation of Steve at his silliest.
Taz giggled, it is a very long time since she has done that. Was she beginning to actually like this guy?
daddy,” said Maurin peevishly, “give us a break won't you? I
don’t know what your tests are, but give me a chance. Do
what you do best Rod.”
quite seriously he went on, rather poetically I thought.
“My dad is a Nazi in the Assembly today, my mum is a hooker down in Marseille, and I’m a sort of anarchist because I live by my gun and my wits, I don’t pay taxes 'cause I never file. I dont pay utility bills and I certainly don’t vote. I may or may not be a rich bastard like you three, but come on mate. Quiz time! “
How could I refuse?
“OK. first question, music, you will have ten seconds in which to answer, whereupon you will hear this sound, there will be no bonus points and a wrong answer will be met with derisive laughter, like this….”
“Get on with it Dad!” Tazzy all excited.
“Right, which band had a 1970 hit with a song entitled simply 'Up Yours!'?”
Broughton Band, Sir.”
He answered instantly to a rapturous round of applause from all of us.
“Let’s move on quickly to the practical part, any good at riding mopeds?”
field performance was a delight to behold, his mastery of
the two-wheeled two-stroke defied both belief and gravity,
how could any man chase sheep round a snowy field, blindfold
rolling a fresh joint at the same time? The man was a
maestro, a motherfucker, in the most noble sense of the word
of course. I think this was the defining moment in their
whirlwind romance, it was at this point that Steve finally
began to fall in love with him.
He was in. Of course he was, but before I gave him the final nod, I asked Steve if he had any questions he would care to add. To my surprise, the lovestruck wretch said that my musical question had been ridiculously easy and that anyway, it wasn’t fair because The Broughtons were my favourite band. Could he try him out with one of his own?
“Maurin”, said Steve gravely, “which band would habitually wind up their concerts with an extended jam called “Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout?”
gentlemen I’d like you to give a big hand to The Pink
Fairies!” Maurin replied without hesitation.
about Harry’s Toenail?” Taz asked with a little grin, and
all he said was,“Gnidrolog." Which surprised me.
OF THE ILL FORTUNE WHICH THE VALIANT RODNEY
HAD IN THE TERRIBLE AND UNDREAMT OF ADVENTURE IN iKEA, WITH
OTHER OCCURRENCES WORTHY TO BE FITLY RECORDED
I had a feeling that this year was going to be a special one, I knew that something out of the ordinary would happen to brighten up my life in this humdrum town. Another good reason to drink more beer, give fate a helping hand. So far I have managed to lose a highly explosive motorcycle and misplace my teenage daughter. How good does it get?
I just wish I
could get a message to her grody mother, tell her that I was
the new Sheriff and the vote had been unanimous, tell her
that after just three days with me Taz was living in a
single room with two other individuals, one of them was male
and the other, well hell, the other one! And Susan, I
wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that all three
of them habitually smoke marijuana cigarettes. Reefers!
that they are, Steve and Taz refused point blank to leave
Maurin's party. She was going to stay put with her precious
Nucky balls and he wanted to stay on for a day or two; the
sea air was so much more exhilarating here than in
claustrophobic Les Couillons, and the hill climbs, hell, the
hill climbs! They were an altogether different category.
Good luck to them both. If they wanted to spend their days
shooting things for food and profit, at least I could
concentrate on my new found hobbies of shopping and
drinking. Although everybody knows that beer ain't really
not failed to arouse in me a love of cheap and plentiful
beer and then instructed me how to buy things that I didn’t
even know existed, let alone wanted, because I had to buy
them on one particular day. Serendipity I think they call
One fine day, it had turned out nice again as ever, I decided to ditch the small fry, be a little more adventurous and head towards a monstrous Centre commercial on the outskirts of Toulon. My days of casually scoffing a solitary Plat du Jour in one of the village eateries would be well and truly behind me, and I could be sure that all the staff in these places would be delightfully ill-mannered and offensive. Wouldn’t you be if you had to work in one of them?
Hello happiness, so long lonesomeness, say goodbye to negative thinking. I was so glad that once again I had decided to stick with a moped, as parking a car at IKEA is not recommended for short tempered persons such as myself especially when their bladders are screaming as a result of one of the six or so bottles of DiuretiKbourg I had already consumed on the way here. The power of positive drinking. IKEA? Now what the heck could that stand for? I Knew Eamonn Andrews? Speaking of cheese sandwiches…… I Kierkegaard, Existentialist Asshole? As I pulled up right outside the tinny building, I was pleased to see that cigarette smoking was finally back in fashion, everybody, to a man, desperately patting each of their pockets in turn searching for a packet, lighting up, relieved and drawing hard; as if brother John had finally passed away. What on earth was behind those revolving doors? I was sorry for their loss of course, but I just had to find out.
has had the occasion to visit one of these stores will know
what happened to me inside. Yes I had a pee, obviously. Then
I grabbed a grossly inappropriate quantity of little
demi-cut pencils and began to follow the direction arrows on
the floor and soon found myself hopelessly lost and
completely disorientated. I tried leaving a trail of pencils
behind me as a track-back, but since I was not the only one
to do this, it made matters a little worse. This condition
went on for some time and deteriorated several-fold shortly
after my second visit to the cafeteria. I was as as ever
prepared for bad food. But seriously! Apples, onions,
blueberries, chicken and Brussels sprouts al dentieri,
all fried up with pickled herrings, minced fine and doused
with cod-liver oil, dill, malt vinegar and sickly sweet
mustard; Krap, they called it. Krap of the day. Some derive
the name of this delicacy from the French word degustation
because of the mismatched ingredients regulated solely
by the market prices of the day; others say it bears the
name of the inventor, Karl Rappaport, a rich and profane
Finnish merchant; but the general and most probable opinion
is that it was named after the Countess of Krapola, fourth
wife of Napoleon XIV, who brought this famous recette
to France in the late twentieth century. They came to take
him away ha, ha. Hee hee!
My sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an obviously meaningless and absurd shop had made me weary of looking at the bosh they had on display and I began instead to study my fellow patrons, who like me were wandering about fazed and a little bemused, desperately trying to find the exit without actually showing any signs of panic.
My bright idea to follow someone who was actually using the pygmy pencils for their designed purpose of jotting down unlikely names on the scraps of paper I had at once rejected, turned out to be sound. I should be named employee of the month, but I found out later that a fellow called Kevin had already beaten me to it. I stuck close to one of these fearless chaps until I was finally led into a vast and resounding ill-foreboding warehouse. This was the penultimate hurdle before my escape, for between these massive shelves of flat boxes and the check-outs of salvation, lay another little island of fluorescent plastics and miscellaneous objects. I assumed, in my confused state, that I had to buy an arbitrary selection before being allowed out. They were mainly things for storing other things in, to keep your house tidy and nice, but I just grabbed a pink watering-can, a big yellow firewood bag and a box of candles, paid with my trusty Amex card almost without incident.
“You must take a blue bag sir, the yellow ones are not for sale” said the smiling youth at the desk.
“But I like yellow and it's a present for Steve.”
fucking blue one!" Said Kevin with polish. This sad
intelligence had barely reached my ears before I was struck
with a chill, with such wrath and fury did my heart burn
that I scarcely restrained myself from rushing out into the
car park, crying aloud and proclaiming openly the perfidy
and treachery of which I was the victim; but fearing another
microphone incident, I took a fucking blue one, then
sauntered outside for a smoke.
after a bit of mischievous jay-walking; Decathlon:
affordable sporting goods for all the family. Now what could
this name possibly signify? I hope I won’t have to spend two
days in there, hopping, jumping and throwing heavy sharp
things around. Here of course there was no smoking, no
stress. In fact brightly feathered, out here on the
perimeter they were well-groomed, immaculate. This
expression is often seen as a historical Jim Morrison
convenience, but Mr Morrison never shopped at Decathlon, or
Morrisons, of that I am sure.
This place is
downright philosophical suicide, but a person is free to
choose and embrace his own ridiculous condition; It’s fun to
be clean, its nice to be neat, for people are happy when
they are neat and they are clean and free of lint.
I wasted a
good half an hour hanging about in the reception area
looking for freebies until I finally agreed to move on. A
white shirt, black pants walkie-talkie guy that showed scant
regard for my pointy badge of courage had the last
word. "You must be seriously off your blooming chump,"
he said. "Fretting about blarsted pencils in a sports
shop. Off your blessed blooming chump." He was right of
course, unless it was just the demons of four-twenty.
I was ambling down the aerobics department and just about to turn into le stretching, idly daydreaming about living at the bottom of the sea and killing anything that came near me, when my phone rang. My ring-tone don’t sound funny I’m sure! It was my favourite daughter, Stoned Taz.
“Hi daddy, I have news. Lorraine and that slimy scumbag Lister are sailing into town at the weekend and throwing a private party on the yacht. Please say you’ll come daddy. For me!”
“I should probably tell you now Papa, that I mentioned fancy-dress, so that they wouldn’t feel too out of place.”
“Well that was awfully considerate you darling, but you know I loathe dressing up, and where am I going to find an outfit at such short notice?”
But she had
hung up; got me to say I’d come then left me in the lurch,
crafty little so and so. So here I was pissed and alone in a
sportswear mega-store with an invitation to a stupid fancy
dress do on a ketch in Saint-Tropez. Whatever was I going to
do? Meandering through soccer, cycling and ten pin bowling,
I had my second brilliant idea of the day. I know you had
all thought of it long ago, but don’t forget the beer. So
what was it to be? A fearless huntsman in full camouflage
with a murderous dagger and a real gun? A gay golf pro or an
overweight jockey? Why not a paramedic scuba-diver with a
nasty virus? I just couldn’t decide, so in the end I started
to pick up random ill-assorted articles from all the
departments. I say random, but I was really concentrating on
items that I knew would be too tight, were made of fake
Lycra and most of all, things that had bizarre brand names
with misspelled garbage written all over them. What you may
ask was the thinking behind this plan, or indeed was there
any at all? Yes, Yes, I shall be attending this party as
Everyman, the Decathlon sweat-shop dick head. Hoorah for
lurching as I returned damply to my village, the tall,
thick-set man in a shabby awful brown and tasseled fez was
marching painfully through the twilight beneath the
intermittent streetlights on the old road to Saint-Tropez.
He carried three Nordic beers bound together by some sort of
ornamental elastic ligature, and a bundle wrapped in a big
blue table-cloth with yellow handles. His face expressed
worry and fatigue; he appeared to be in a disorderly
sporadic sort of hurry and was accompanied by a voice other
than his own.
”Have you got a light Mac?”
I said, "no
but I do have rather a tasty assortment of totally useless
plastic-ware and this flimsy firewood bag. Not a patch on
the ones you get in Dillmart, 'ere you can have it, no,
bollocks, take the lot. I have discovered today that
Secondary Storage Solutions help you create a place for the
things you love. And by making the most of the space you
have, you’ll finally have the room to enjoy using them, too.
Now bugger oeuf!"
I reached the
door of the house, found the keyhole and the switch, slipped
past the heavy doors and the dusty cupboards and the potted
plants, my little pretence of a home, where the armchair and
the computer, the coffee maker, the pencil-pot and Hesse or
Dostoevsky, Joyce and Hamsun all awaited me, neatly stacked.
There was no wife or children, nor Lucy Maud McSkirvishely,
no dogs or cats as would be the case of more sensible
I did sleep well for an hour or two, but about midnight, I took off my wet clothes and at once the situation, as I had understood it, came back to me. I went down the stairs from my room in the attic, those difficult stairs of this alien world; I settled myself in my armchair and put on my glasses, it was with great astonishment and a sudden sense of impending fate that I read the title on the cover of a newspaper to which 'he' subscribed, an organ of the National Front and the Humpty-dumpty party and it's companion volume of weekly televisual events. "It's A Boy by George!"
scarcely read a newspaper these days, seldom a modern book,
Potter or Brown, in the Dan Dan or Sandra sense of the word
and after today's humbling experiences I no longer
understand what pleasures and joys there are that drive
people to overcrowded traffic jammed cities and shopping
malls, queuing up into the packed cafeterias with that
suffocating and repetitive music, to the bars with variety
entertainments on monster screens. I do not understand nor
share these joys. In fact, if the world is right, if this
music of the malls and the mass enjoyments of these
civilized people who are pleased with so little are right,
then I am wrong, or not quite right in the head. This world
of theirs is strange and incomprehensible to me.
A little while later I decided to set off in search of an early breakfast. Don't for one minute start to think that 24/7 shopping has finally hit Rural France, but being on friendly terms with old De Bono the baker and tall enough to reach up and tap on his elevated little window pane of the backroom, I could get myself a croissant or two 20/7. (closed between Twelve and four in the afternoon.)
short step from my doorstep the dark stone walls outside
looked at me sternly, shut off in a deep shadow, sunk in a
dream of their own. The dark heavy masonry admonished my
tardiness with a half smile. I went on and on and they gave
me what I took to be just a friendly nod. Then from the
hollow mouth of an alley a man appeared with startling
suddenness in front of me, another lone man going his
homeward way with weary step. He wore a cap and a
brilliantly coloured blouse, under which he seemed to be
carrying some kind of animal, a badger perhaps. He walked on
wearily without looking round. Otherwise I should have
bidden him a jolly good morning and offered him a smoke. I
tried to read the device on his tee shirt in the light of
the next lamp; but it swayed to and fro and I could decipher
nothing. Then I called out and asked him to let me read his
proclamation. He stopped and held himself a little steadier.
Then I could read the dancing reeling letters: The Amazing
To my intense surprise he gave me a hearty greeting: "B'jour Marster Rodney" and from the awkward comedy that followed came a beautiful clear explanation.
dance", he told me with some excitement, "a new dance, a
kind of fox trot, with the title "Happy" has swept the world
this winter. Once we have heard it we just cannot get enough
of it, we are all soaked in it and intoxicated with it and
everyone sings to the melody whenever it is played. I myself
would dance without stop and with anyone who came in my way,
with quite young girls, with women in their earlier or their
later prime, even with those who had sadly passed them
"You are a troubled spidery man Greg." I replied "and despite your song, you look quite unhappy. Which is bad. One shouldn't feel like that. It makes me sorry. Here! Try a mild pipe of this!"
How the queer man laughed when a few seconds later I took my turn to hum him this favourite tune! And what a cold and eerie laugh it was! Here in Skin Alley was the Queen of bad intentions herself, laughing with a high-pitched but almost noiseless laugh, like a reptile's laugh. Happy Happy! Happy! Greg was quite drunk, yet his laugh still shattered me.
WHICH TREATS OF THE ADDRESS DISPLAYED BY THE FAIR PHYLLIS WITH OTHER MATTERS PLEASANT AND AMUSING.
February's end was fast approaching, in daylight
hours the air was warm, the sky was blue, the sun was high,
bright and warm as a carpet, but my soul was very gloomy.
Mercy on us, what a town! Always such black darkness at
night. That one flickering lamp for the whole street, the
little, low-pitched, stone houses were closed up with
shutters, there was no one to be seen in the street after
dusk, all the people shut themselves up in their houses, and
there was nothing but the howling of packs of cats, hundreds
and thousands of them wailing and screaming all night.
absolutely farcically adorable it is to see you again
Every year about this time the mothers of the disappeared make such bare assed phone calls; not at all the polite over the pond type that ask sheepishly “if it would be all right?” or “not wanting to put on you Rod, baa, baa..” No, these are cellphones and they stand there brazenly on your freshly scrubbed doorstep. Words would actually fail if I were asked to relate the ten days or so I recently spent trying to avoid this year’s fearless pair of cut price spring breakers at my expense. This year intrepid explorer Phyllis MacFarlane visits the remote village of Les Couillons and is adopted by a proud people who inhabit a world of home improvement, cats and ritual self-sacrifice. Fortunately for you, Phyllis and the truly dreadful Teddy left an indelible reminder of their misadventures on a Curry County message board and I give it to you freely and in full…
“We arrived in the uniformly strange and rather dilapidated, but, as they keep saying, quite lovely village of Les Couillons rather early this morning and found the teensy house that our dear friend Rodney had recommended quite easily. We also found ourselves rather unnervingly in a place where the streets have no name. We had seen the website of course and had been more than a little intrigued by the description of the property: 'Constructed in the trapeze fashion with an expanded backside!' Expanded backside my eye, and here we are. Towards sundown after intermittent napping, what is it about roaring power tools, barking doggies running to stand still around here? Ted suggested that since Rod was typically indisposed, we should go out for dinner and see a movie. More like let’s download a movie before popping out for a bite to eat. The wifi connection seemed to have plenty of bandwidth and he had his laptop hooked up and already perusing The Pirate Bay (proxy, trans.) top 100.
This is not our first trip to France so we were prepared to do a bit of shopping around before finding a suitable restaurant, you see poor Ted is a vegetarian and doesn’t care much for Phish. He also stated more than once in his autobiography – Ted the Dead-Head – that he did not expect to share the same plate with an omelet again as long as he lived. Here though we anticipated no difficulty in finding some of that fabulous Mediterranean food, the stuff that diets are made of; marinated goat’s cheese and real sun ripened tomatoes, ratatouille, even a more exotic fruity tajine would do just fine. This was also the season for wild mushrooms, gorgeous juicy figs, hot potato pongs and of course roast chestnuts.
As for the movie, for some strange reason he had settled on “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls,” but it was coming down nicely anyway. We felt all cosy and safe from the ire of the copyright holders. Tucked away here in deepest Provence, the only time you might get into a bit of a fluster is if you were dopey enough to télécharge Johnny Halliday or his kidney. No, I mean ilk. Whatever. Rodney had told us, among other more curious things that there were ‘shed loads’ of eating places in this tiny town and we had already checked out Couillons-tourism.com. No less than eleven, with all but two in very easy walking distance, so with mouths already watering off we set.
We began down by the little river at the Hotel des Maures, Borellos! Not much information on the site and their link was broken, but “Cuisine Provencal” was a good enough start. I was drawn in by the Tarte Maison, forty thousand headmen could not have restrained Ted, but in the end anchovies, piggies and moo-cows were more persuasive. I found out much later that an omelet aux champignons had always been a more less compulsory appetizer at this establishment and not only were the mushrooms of the canned variety but the eggs were supplied very cheaply by a man called Didier, who Rod does not seem to care very much for. Is Didier really a name anyway?
It was with some trepidation that we ventured into the the Bar de la Mairie. Bar, restaurant, smoke store and reputedly a house of ill repute, although Rodney had mentioned that King Ludo was not as bad as his choice of shirts and baseball caps would lead you to believe and his paladin Magnetto was a charm boat.
After ten minutes or so of being unceremoniously ignored we were told that the restaurant was only open at lunchtime, so we hopped across the street to the rather posh looking “Un Air de Rien.” Just a tapas bar though really, all spicy sausages and tortillas, omelets by any other name. You do know what an omelet is don't you, as I seem to be mentioning them rather a lot? We did stay for a drink or two though. Julian the owner was such a sweet and decent egg himself, sooh! attentive, I really think he should rename his place The Dewdrop Inn, or better, The Dude Drop In, that would be even sweeter.
Not unduly discouraged, in fact buoyed a little by Lucien’s lovely wine we strolled the fifty or so yards to the Farigoulette, which looked like a miniature Redhill mining town: absolutely stunning, almost completely smothered in a glorious Virginia creeper and several beautifully hand-written chalk menu boards. Now this was more like it. Not so much for the herbivore however, unless Ted was to stick to the puddings. The chef Franck did kindly propose some Hot Tuna, why do people always think vegetarians eat fish? His wife Karine was a doll and would not hear of us leaving without an appetizer as it was still quite early. She produced a half emptied bottle of Guignorix, a power packed cherry liqueur, from her husband’s secret cubbyhole in the kitchen and would not let us go until the bottle was finished. Before leaving I asked Corinne what the word farigoulette actually meant, but she had no idea.
from round here," she explained, “we just pay the rent, I
think it’s just the name of the shop”.
Francis was looking decidedly peeved.
A little later we found ourselves standing forlornly outside La Petite Fontaine, where, we had been assured by Francois that we would find our bonheur. Cuisine provençale again, but this time recommended by nombreux guides, including Gault & Millau and Gantié no less. Their specialties were onion tart, local goose cheese and red peppers marinated in olive oil and farigoulette, the local name for thyme. Eureka! It was closed, which is probably a good thing because looking around we find that they don’t do major credit cards and I doubt they give receipts, but I’m sure it’s all quite legitimate.
The immediately adjacent and gaudily decorated Terrasse Provençal was packed to bursting, taking shameless advantage of their neighbor’s annual vacation to feed what sounded like, well I may be from New Mexico but I know something about eating meat and thumping tables. I’m not sure why, but I also know what a Welsh rugby team sounds like. So I still haven't found what I'm looking for.
So wearily onward, a little further up the street we found the recently opened “Gourmandy’z”, their link was also a 404, so all we had to go on was an interesting variation of the cuisine thing, this time it was traditionelle. They should really have called it Wackjob’z, the menu being an arbitrary mix of international fare; baked Camembert with a banana sauce for example does, I suppose, warrant a great big V sign but vegetarians are notoriously unadventurous – isn’t that so Ted? Even I would have to pass on the tonno bonno with chorizo. Bone for tuna. It did have, thankfully, a traditional Spanish tapas bar attached as well. Two of those in one small French village, odderer and odderer, still, with or without you Teddy boy, may as well have a few more drinks.
It was now fully nine ‘o clock and staggering slightly, hopefully homeward bound, we stumbled upon another little place. Trying to decipher the menu in the failing light and arguing briefly about what day it was, for here they had a completely different menu for every day of the week, but closed on Wednesdays and weekends. We at last settled for the beetroot vinaigrette, aioli with its springlike vegetables, a Proustian cake and ice-cream, yum. We had found the menu but there didn’t seem to be any kind of restaurant, how could this be? We tried a few doors and looked in a few alleyways, nothing, until a woman tugging a rather smelly cocker spaniel by a long piece of string came to our assistance. She turned out to be British and Gordon Bennett! How do those people do it? She was all in a twitter and didn’t even bat one of her snooty eyelids when she told us it was the elementary school cafeteria and judging by our condition we wouldn’t like it anyway because they are rumored to water down the wine for the 3-11 year-olds. She did though point us in the right direction home – even accompanied us for some of the way – until we made our excuses and a quick exit. That dog really did stink.
in my tipsiness having seen a pizza to go flyer somewhere
in the house and agreed to call the order while Ted
checked on the download. The phone was ringing and I was
wondering just how this man Goertzy could possibly make
pizzas in a wood-burning oven in his little van on the gas
It took the
best part of thirty years of marriage for me to realize
that I didn't understand my husband, but we had been
watching this film for a mere twelve minutes and
thirty-eight seconds before I noticed that it was in
Spanish and I understood even less. So far then it's no
dinner and not really a movie for me and the 'phone was
Deux calzone mit extra formaggio, keine fliesch und molto
capers por favor.”
How well do I speak French after a few Drinks?
all apologies, really polite, but why did I not know that
it was Wednesday and that French people do not work on
this day? Children do not even go to school! "Speak
to me to my face if you will, for my ears are no longer
working." He had worked also both the public holidays in
July and August last year and must now take the month of
April to rest. Ordering a pizza at half past nine on such
a night should be punishable by law. “Even dough boys have
rights don’t you know”?
Well if he
doesn’t sell pizzas and he patently does not, if he is
mild-mannered and quite incoherent on the telephone, this
surely begs the question, what exactly does he cook in
there. Shake and bake?
Just over twelve hours in this odd little burg nor any bite to eat, though rummaging about in the larder I have just found a pack or two of Jiminy Cricket Brand super yum-yum chicken flavored instant noodles, Ted’s favorite. Also a bottle of schnapps just for me.
More posts in a day or two.
There were indeed more posts, try this one, crazy-assed hoe, for sure for sure…..
Ted and Rodney have now been locked in a basement for a little over 36 hours, trying to tweak a dual boot of Slackware 3.1 and Minix. Bullet the blue sky lads, the only lilo configuration that interests me is the inflatable kind, on the beach. We have even been blessed with the most extraordinary fine weather due to a massive anti-cyclone over western Europe which much to Rodney’s ravishment stops dead at the Belgian border. I am making the daily hazardous trip from Les Couillons to Le Lavandou over a one tree hill to bronze my glorious butt on a broad fat and virtually empty sandy beach. The route is so remote that some days you might only see a couple of dickheads (cyclists) slide by with a band of dogs. But the journey is not unachievable – all you need is a sturdy moped, a knack for light packing and a sense of adventure to make this the trip of a lifetime and return with an oversize gallon jar of equally fabulous rose wine, served petrol pump style from a brilliant vineyard that I pass on the way.
paradise, the gadda da vida. I had grave doubts however
about the emblazoned scrawl on the back of my borrowed
leather motorcycle jacket: TIBSA “The Idiot Bastard Sons
of Anarchy”. This is some club that Rod has recently
joined, a kind of existentialist stroke nihilist
association of middle-aged and world weary gentlemen who
know that the world is so monumentally rucked up that they
just don't give a hooey about anything any more. He
told me quite seriously and in that funny voice of his, “I
am the Sheriff, of that there can be no doubt but as for
space, time and motion, they are mere suppositions and
life itself is but an 'allucination”.
He and his dinky friend Steve seem more like naughty little boys just trying it on, seeing what they can get away with. Sounds like fun, sure, but he’s not getting any younger and he’s trapped underground with my husband. We love the man, always have, but the low spark of these moped boys? Men in suits can buy proper cars you know Rod.
enough of that. Good morning, this is your strawberry
alarm clock speaking and I’d like to purchase a chicken
please. We have settled right down to the kind of a bready
cheesy and wino routine that would make the folks back
home in Curry County chunder. What is it now, you great
pillock? Ten pints of sun warmed rose a night for three,
cheese that smells like Hank Baskett’s armpits and bread
that you can actually break. We’re good, me Teddy and Rod,
very good. Ah, certainly sir, some stuffing? Awesome
actually. Back and forth, back and forth, five liters a
day the well balanced way. Unsustainable is not one of my
favorite words, but the boys are right, bright pink and
perpetually blotto is not the place for me to be right
is on the table. I’m unable to reach it at this time. I
can only hope that I inadvertently pressed the voice
activation button. I’m lying on the floor of my room. I’ve
been shot. Just kidding folks, Ted has just got his laptop
all sorted out; all this way for a dual boot? Trip through
your wires husband! What’s wrong with the friendly old IRC
channel? Use your own, you great poofy poonagger.
ever the diploma, cut at last to the cheese:
back to Clovis and leave me alone.”
The trail narrows, I'm close, but the last few steps are always the darkest and most difficult. Tough titties if they weren't, you nasty spotted prancer.
For the record, there are one or two
things that I feel I must comment on: firstly, that figs,
chestnuts and wild mushrooms are neither in season nor
available here in April. Secondly that during their brief
and unwelcome visit, I saw no signs of temperate sunshine,
it rained the whole time in fact. Oh yes, I did not see
Ted more than once, in passing and of course I believe he
was running Slackware Current, single boot. Such a
sensible man, what the hell is Minnix?
OF THE DELECTABLE DISCUSSION BETWEEN RODNEY AND HIS SQUIRE TOGETHER WITH OTHER INCIDENTS.
The evening before that most dreaded
of parties I dropped by at the love shack with the
pretence of needing to finalize some important paperwork
for Maurin's admission to our club. I had to add 'just
kidding mate', pretty damned quick, or I think he really
would have shot me.
the door of this forester's dwelling a young woman, her
arms bare to the elbow, was chopping wood with a hatchet
on a block of stone. She was tall, slender, strong, a
true girl of the woods.
dad.” She replied:
Further embarrassment was delayed by the timely arrival of Steve on the kind of vintage racing bike that can be picked up by any dumpster, flying down the rough stone drive, both arms aloft, dressed only in a long flowing yellow dressing-gown and plastic sandals. He gracefully dismounted and insisted that the long suffering Maurin interviewed him, again!
great Steve Milliband has finally made it home and if
I’m lucky, I might get some sense out of him.
“Bonjour Nelson, but actually it's Milbona now.”
“My mistake Steve, but you really did have a full fat ride today Steve!”
oui! bon ride aujourd’hwee, trez bon. Terrific in fact.”
Craftily feigning a little breathlessness.
“The peloton was extremely vigilant though, Steve.”
“Oui, oui, extremement vigilant n’est pas Nelson?”
“But you held on for quite a few hectometres didn’t you? “
“Oui, bien sur j’ai tenoo quelques petits ‘ectos, Nelson”
“But in the end Lance was too strong for you.”
“Oui, a la fin, Lance etay tro for pour moi.”
“To sum up then Steve, would it be fair to say Tyne, Dogger: northeast 3 or 4. Occasional rain. Moderate or poor?”
“Oui, tout a fay Nelson, oui, oui, exactement….”
“Steve, can you confirm the rumours that the boys in town call you mellow Jell-o?”
”Oui, oui! The blustery shower!”
“Before you go could you tell us a little about your famous tactics of starting every race like a bat out of hell, only to always finish last?”
“Oui, oui. There are deux choses which I ne comprend pas s this world, first le income tax and then pourquoi le cycling is he un team sport?”
“Always a pleasure to talk to one of cycling’s true greats, better get back to the team bus now, Steve, smoke a little something to enhance those language skills…”My real reason for coming here of course was to try to find out a bit more about this Maurin bloke, he had joined our club and was pretty fly for a French guy, but any time soon he could join the family or at worst become the good friend of a best friend. I really had no idea of what was going on here and it did worry me a little; only friend Beery Bravura would even think of telling you otherwise and he would, daft bugger. I had been wondering for a couple of days just how I was going to broach the subject: "I'd like to tell you about Texas radio and the big beat," or, "good morning, I’d like to have a word with you about endives." Nothing I could think of sounded quite right and if I practiced aloud, quite wrong. I would have to watch and wait. Maurin treated us all to another taste of his home-grown cuisine, Taz and Steve had a blistering attack of the munchies, while the host and I sedately enjoyed a bottle of Aigo Ardento as a perfect complement to an excellent lamb stew with dried figs and apricots accompanied by an original but quite delicious sweet chestnut cousicous-cous-cous thing.
Steve began a club-footed attempt at clearing the table, the genial one produced a little something he had prepared earlier, a gently smouldering hookah for two, announcing that: “the gentlemen would be indulging in a little Nucky Delight, and no, I don’t include you Steve, I have a funny feeling that Mr Rodders here has something he would like to discuss with me.”
“Too polite to be honest,” I was thinking darkly, and also rather hoping that Taz would not offer to do the dishes. She didn’t. I looked him up and down discreetly I hope, searching for an artistic description. He was Strong, tall, big, lean and handsome. Charming, robust, arrogant and attractive. A good guy, dependable, like a rock and at first and second sight, utterly despicable and French. I wondered to myself if he was on Facebook, because a photo of a guy like this drunken boy would look pretty damned good under a golden shower of Black Label. If only I had charged my 'phone and he would oblige by removing his shirt.
My moment had come, we were alone at opposing ends of Steve’s unfinished table, resin rings floating delightfully all around us we sat in silence, when suddenly without really thinking about it, the right words just came to me, time to get dialectical:
“Who the fuck are you?”
As if I had taken those words straight from his mouth he laughed back, “Rod, if I may call you that, you will know who I am, and I will tell you everything, but first my friend, you are in my house so who the fuck are you?”
Il n'est qu'une egratinure” I murmured crossly, it was
only a scratch, as anyone who has seen 'The Holy Grail'
with French sub-titles would already know.
All right, if this was how he wanted it, fine.
“I’m Rodney. Skirvishely, table top dancer, and it would be me that asks the questions…..Dillo.”
my reluctance and certainty of the absurd he asked only
that I tell him why I was here, in France, with my
lovely daughter and the wacko. I could see no real
reason to deny myself the pleasure of telling an
unreasonable story and as he was visibly sitting very
comfortably, I began: “Not long ago, somewhere in
Valencia county, New Mexico I was trying to score a ten
bob deal when I came across a sickening one-armed, half
blind amputee deep in righteous contemplation carrying a
heavy looking sack, but I asked him anyway.
'Mister postman! Where can I get some weed in this no
horse town?’ He looked me up and down, or at least that
was the way I figured it, then he looked me up and down
again and said: "Don’t look for Mary Janes or sticky
greenies in this county as the quality of our law
enforcement prohibits the use of them, head east over
yonder to Les Couillons, France, for there you will find
what you are searching for son, the hillsides are full
of it. C. Sativa Linn. Those Frenchies say the darnedest
things. Lookee lookee yonder. Lookee lookee
yonder, where the sun don't go.”
not quite the same story Miss Pinky told me the other
chump was smiling at me,
”Quite chatty she is after a few puffs, oh yes, speaking of which, Steve told me he met you last week for the first time in that restaurant……”
Even if we had met in a bar out in Chesapeake Bay my lips were sealed, this man would not get another word out of me until I had enjoyed his riposte.
“OK Rodney, here goes, I was born into a rather well to do family in Marseille…….”
I looked at him askance hoping to convey the message that I was surprised to hear that there were any such families in that dog end of a town, but he chose to ignore me and went on.
“My father is French, or Algerian French to be more precise, a pied noir no less. For years he was a surgeon at the Hôpital La Timone, then later a deputé……No not a Bo Diddley deputy sheriff,” Maurin responded to another of my famous rummy looks. “A member of parliament if you will, and leaning quite heavily to the right I’m afraid to say. He is a very ambitious man and quite the perfect tool-head as Maman always says. As for my mother, well she is definitely English, but I have never been quite sure if she was an actress, an opera singer or just an over dramatic hooker with an annoying singing voice.”
was a pretty good start, I was thinking.
“Go on Maurin, please…”
“I did try school for quite a number of days,” he continued, lost in thought, as if he were reliving those presumably dreadful moments, "I really tried, but learning endless lists of words, subjected to three or more tortuous dictations a day, being frequently reminded of how important it was to vote, not to mention the enforcement of that strictest of republican certitudes; that we were all the same, made me a very unhappy boy. I who was so different from all those imbecile French kids, me whose mother tongue was God’s own and of course the little lad who knew only too well of the vital necessity not to vote, particularly in the eighth arrondissement of Marseille.”
“All three of you then, Maurin? Encore encore!”
“School became ever more tiresome and I soon began to realise that I was learning nothing at all, apart from a language that I dislike and had very little use for. All subjects you see are just thinly veiled French language lessons, even in history or biology tests, all the answers are already on the paper in the form of pretty pictures, graphs and extracts of text. All you have to do is to re-write or paraphrase, do a cute précis in your best French and you’re done….You must have wondered Rodney why French people appear to be so stupid? No? Well they aren’t strictly speaking any stupider than anybody else, they just don’t actually know anything. Nothing at all, apart from how to re-phrase or regurgitate something they have seen or heard before".
"What?" I belched incredulous, “what about all this we hear about their system being the best in the world, their self esteemed baccalaureate. Frenchies being all round good eggs, well turned out and quite exquisite? My tailor is rich and my sister is not a not a whore ?”
afraid it is all true Rod, and for them it is the best
mass educational system in the whole wide. Why?
Because the entire thing is based on the ability
or not, to master an impossible language. Did you know?
" He asked me, grinning apologetically, "We still have
public scribes, scriveners and the spelling police? In
this day and age!...They neatly divide the populace into
three disproportionate categories: the few that can
spell really, really well go on to be senior
administrators and captains of industry. Those who can
write a sentence with only a few grammatical errors can
become lowlier public servants and live in complete
security on a very meager salary, and the rest, the soft
underbelly of society, just know their place and are
happy to be looked after and bullied by their undoubted
betters. The bottom line is that these poor people are
all fed on the same diet of government run and heavily
censored media poisoning that they all end up in little
boxes and talk with a rapid Diddley beat and they all
sound just the same.
Not often do I learn anything from a fellow man, they don’t teach this in the national schools and even Google himself would be hard pushed to impart this kind of life-changing information; of course it had to be true, like British table manners, the French spout utter bullshit, but do so beautifully. This was priceless; to know that policemen, schoolteachers, mayors of small towns had risen to the summit of their noble occupations solely on the merit of being able to read, write and speak an almost obsolete language but had no other knowledge or understanding! This I could, and surely would, use to my advantage.
Maurin resumed; "I finally walked out of school the day my maths teacher said ‘Les mathématiques, c’est aussi la redaction’. I went home without even bothering to tell him to sodomize himself with a retractable baton, and informed my mother that she was morally and duty bound to teach me how to be a Brit. Enough of indefinite relative pronouns, genders, conjugation and having my maths papers mutilated for a spelling mistake, enough, being British was my birthright.”
I am not easily impressed, in fact he hadn’t really told me very much at all, but walking out of school without a final gratuitous insult to your maths teacher was a phenomenal achievement in itself. I was warming to the boy and was impatient to find out how his mother had managed to turn an effete little French robot into what he undoubtedly appeared to be today, a proud and loathsome Brit. According to Maurin she had accepted his demand with much enthusiasm but first she had to make sure he could read and understand English. She began her very first lesson by asking him to read a random paragraph from a paperback she happened to have with her at the time. Maurin recited it for me, it was something he was never likely to forget:
“Ever see a hot shot hit, kid? I saw the Gimp catch one in Philly. We rigged his room with a one-way whorehouse mirror and charged a sawski to watch it. He never got the needle out of his arm. They don’t if the shot is right. That’s the way they find them, dropper full of clotted blood hanging out of a blue arm. The look in his eyes when it hit — Kid, it was tasty…."
formality was over she outlined what she believed be a
distinctly cunning plan: "pronounce all your 'R's'
properly for a start you prick, but go slovenly on the
vowels, stammer a bit if you must, embrace the
Conservative party and those two beastly men Decameron
and Ozzy Osbourne in particular, then go totally,
sickeningly BBC. Don't worry too much about that one,
I'll show you the ropes kid. That's all there is to it.
mind the Boomtown Rats; he was to major in pop music.
From Abba to Zappa with a good deal of abba zabba,
beatle bones and smoking stones in between. He would
study the beautiful game in all its infinite statistical
glory and would be fed on a diet of inane yet rather
clever and mind-numbing British sit-coms and soaps.
Learn all the accents and make fun of them. But no baked
beans and spam for breakfast dinner or tea, please
Mummy. He was also expected to re-enact Monty Python
sketches, verbatim, every morning before lessons began.
As for the minor subjects, he chose suburban property
prices, Mediterranean holidays and an option to speak
knowledgeably on all things related to cars, healthcare
and consumer credit, paying particular attention to
lying about great deals on air conditioning, heated
leather upholstery and lewd behaviour at office parties.
He voluntarily passed on reading the tabloid newspapers
or The Lord of the Flies. Please mummy please, don't
make me watch Coronation Street or Strictly. Spare me
Downton Abbey, Match of the Day and Top Gear!
Please, please mummy!
exactly are you doing here and now in this dreadful
place called France Maurin?" I asked him, turning
the tables but without really expecting or caring about
the reply, "why did you never go to greedy England? You
could be drinking tea and reading the Daily Express
right now, in a real house worth a bloody fortune, or
walking a horrible little the dog on an extendable lead
and swigging a crafty a pint in that marvelous little
pub just down the road, you would be blessed with the
NHS and GCHQ, not to mention MUFC, what more could you
want in life? A payday loan to shop at Fucking
The Nucky Balls had left me happy, spiteful and smug but almost inanimate. He told me that in the end, being half French, he actually didn’t give a crap about cars, house prices, holidays, pop music, dogs on leads or even that much about beer or football! He just enjoyed the quiet life with all the good things thrown in for free: in random order and not an exhaustive list; wild mushrooms and free firewood, water from a well and electricity from the sun. Salad, from the roadside and meat from his gun and really good cheap wine. Long holidays too, very very long holidays. Yes he loved his freedom and would specifically recommend an ASP219 retractable baton to anybody who tried to tell him how to live his life. (Assistant referee Steve Milbona raised his flag for an infringement but, after a brief consultation, referee Rodney Skivrishely awarded the goal.)
have one last thing to ask me, and as the night was
getting on and we had a big day ahead of us.
tell me, please Rodney”.
As I was
slipping out of the smoky heavens of Erewhon into the
enticing land of my very own imaginary shipping
forecast, I’m quite sure I heard him say,
thing I really don’t understand after all those years of
studying sport, pop music radio and television, I still
don’t get it…….Rod Skirvishely, anchorman?”
WHICH TREATS OF THE ENTERTAINMENT THAT BEFELL A CERTAIN LISTER AT A BIG DO ON A BOAT.How gorgeous were we? Three Idiot Bastard Sons and one of their daughters swept obtrusively into the old port of Saint-Tropez in the dazzling and most despicable spring-morning sunshine. Maurin leading the way on the Harley Davidson Fat Boy, dressed in the full 17th century, red white and blue Frog army uniform he normally sported once a year for this town’s annual sneer at the Spanish parade. He really was brightly feathered, definitely stoned, and it grieves me to say it, immaculate. Steve in his dreadful dressing gown thing was hanging on to the sissy bar bravely with one hand, gesticulating back at the finger pointing crowds that as ever lined the streets. As if all this was not enough, there was Taz to the right of them and me to the left, one looking mean in her prescription biker gear, the other, Leisure Suit Larry himself, the undisputed king of the dickheads, both on crudely hand painted, psychedelic, vintage mopeds. How sexy we are but we just don’t know it.
We were welcomed aboard the Turpitude by Lister, an over-assuming nouveau riche from – I’m guessing – somewhere near Bradford. West Yorkshire that is, not Pennsylvania, and a slutty Loz in a very short skirt and a long leather jacket.
“Darlings,” she giggled, "come on in, and up to the poop deck for drinkies......Who hid the haddock on the poop deck?" She giggled some more.
It was immediately obvious that this was going to be a greasy salty snacky affair with anything you like to drink as long as it was gin and tonic. Knowing from personal experience that parties of this nature inevitably lead to loutish behaviour, quarreling, vomiting and sometimes hospitalisation, it was not to my liking. I turned and left the shrinking ship without a word. This of course was only for effect, as once I am finally ready to party, I’m good and ready.
I headed off to my good friend Marcel’s épicerie fine just across the street. There I slapped upon his gleaming counter a couple of sickly sausage rolls that I had pocketed before leaving and said:
“Marcel my bon ami, could you please recommend a wine as a suitable complement to these things? A perfect match, a marriage made in heaven?”
Marcel was decent enough not to comment on my patriotic jump-suit and began to examine the nasty little things closely; he cautiously picked one up and sniffed it attentively, then identified it correctly as chair à saucisse alla puttanesca, he produced a lovely sharp Opinel like knife and cut them both into twelve bite sized morsels. He wandered over to a refrigerated display and grabbed some bottles of rosé that covered the entire pinky spectrum from the palest salmon to a much deeper grenadine and set two pristine glasses before me on the counter. Truly the master of all he purveyed, he let the the gobbling begin. We nibbled at the disgusting mouthfuls of Britain and sniffed, swirled and gargled our way through some explosively nosed bottles of blush, before finally deciding on a cantankerous Château Carrubier, a nearby and much maligned vineyard. We laughingly agreed that it would be a short lived romance, divorced before the peanuts struck twelve. Marcel quickly chilled me out a dozen bottles, I could hardly wait to find out how they would get along with the pork pies and extruded polystyrene crunchy crispies that were lying in wait for me back on the Turpitude.
The party could not really be described as being in full swing when I walked back on board the yacht, sans the apricot neck-wear of course, just carrying a big box of wine. Lister had made an effort by playing a not so easy listening eighties disco mix tape on his knobby and loudly functional music-centre and was bobbing up and down, twitching unconventionally to the beat. Maurin and Steve were motionless, freeze-framed waiting for my return.
Lozzi and Taz were idly reminiscing about “schooldays”. They were not so much friends, more like partners in bad behaviour and their paths had crossed many, many times at stupidly expensive private schools in various parts of England and less fortunately, Wales. The competition to see who could be expelled the most often had never been made official, as far as I know anyway, but between Taz with her legendary and inexplicable rudeness and Lozzi’s “habit” of not drinking anything but gin after ten in the morning. Well, if it had been a competition, I would probably have declared it a draw. eight all.
If a party can be thought of as a handful of fancifully dressed persons in varying states of mind alteration, with a few drinks, nibblies and a certain quantity of yowser, yowser, yowsers thrown in for good measure, then this was a party, but no more. Not really a happening and certainly not a love-in! No kazoos, tin-whistles, jaw’s harps or beer by the look of things. Bum steer. This was just nothing at all until Maurin finally decided to become the life and soul.
He startled us all by slamming his clenched fist hard on the coffee table with his thumb rigidly upright. Bang! “Osco Manosco!” he boomed,” Have I got a good one for you?” With a little cleverly disguised difficulty he managed to a salvage a tiny and curiously irregular object from his, well I would have called it a sporren but there is almost certainly another word for it in French; sac à main? No, not this boy.
“I got a brand new game I wanna lay down to you! This is a heptahedron, a seven sided die, and we are about to play a game I learned from the Italian kids back in Marseilles when I was a boy, a game of forfeits, a ridiculous game par excellence. It is really very simple but very dependent on mood and inebriation. The first player to throw a seven has to dream up some kind of prank or trick to play, I hardly need to add that the more reckless, absurd or down right idiotic this thing may be, the better….The next one to throw a seven decides who will execute this crass and hopefully self-destructive deed, and the lucky third seven will be obliged to pay for all the resulting expenses incurred. Got it everybody?”
We got it, however ridiculous it might have sounded, the play began and we tossed the die idly without much enthusiasm, there wasn’t much else to do; intelligent conversation and gay repartee were definitely not in the offing. I of course, threw the first seven.
“Well then,” I rumbled gravely, “someone will have to go to Marcel’s cheese and wine shop and present him with a freshly scraped doggy turd, then ask deadpan to suggest a suitable wine to go with it.”
Not exactly the Chuckle Hut I know, but the others seemed to find it mildly entertaining, and it would do as an appetizer at least.
It was a hapless Lister that chucked the next seven and immediately insisted that it should be his beautiful new bride that did the deed.
"Cum on luv, you know you like takin’t piss outta them froggies.”
She did, she loved it. Steve threw the next seven and had to foot the bill. He instantly produced a large wad of notes from a secret inside stash deep inside the raglans and handed Loz a couple of large denomination, and in a fatherly tone, said, “Run along dear, take those two little fellas for a ride.”
Lozzi returned about half an hour later, crestfallen. Marcel, the impudent creature had just smirked at her and handed over a case of Château Chunder for Monsieur Rodney, with his best compliments.
I really do have to get drunk and I sure do dread it ’cause I know just what I’m gonna do…Back to the coffee table; first round to me, but this time Lister was first up with a seven. I was not entirely sure if this gross little Yorkshire dimwit had fully understood the niceties of this game that I had suddenly realised was so brilliant, or would be capable of inventing a decent prank if given the opportunity. He surprised me on both scores.
“Go swipe summat from’t nearest Dillmart!” He blurted without hesitation. “And if I ‘ave my way t’ll be t’prince of self pity o’er there that does it,” looking rather creepily at Steve.
Sure enough, complicit little wifey threw the next seven and looked over coyly at the shivering yellow jacket. Steve of course had but little understanding of anything the unlikely Lister had said and remained motionless and oddly distracted, singing softly, naturally and very annoyingly, “if you’re really dumb then show me your thumb, if you’re really….I can’t believe it’s not Beefheart!”
A plainly delighted Lister threw the final seven, he of the – eat all, drink all, pay nowt mentality laughed unpleasantly.
"Ow am I supposed to pay ‘owt if’t silly bugger’s to steal summat? Great daft wazzocks the lot o’ yer.”
After my painstaking translation of Lister’s malicious intent Steve set off Dillmart bound and bent on larceny with a little unnecessary encouragement from Taz:
“Chin up Stevie, you can do it tiger, you’re a man now!”
Now what the hell did she mean by that?
Steve was gone some time, during which, Maurin broke out the Nucky balls and lit up a whopper. The British invasion were at first reluctant, preferring G and T’s over donkey shit, but soon caved in beneath the hashish aroma that could, as they say, level Tacoma.
Steve was back, agitated, almost ecstatic and in sharp contrast to the euphoric indolence of those who were still alert enough to greet him.
“Steve, honey! What kept you?” I asked as he staggered aboard, beaming.
“A little Irish fuck kept me, kept me for over an hour, that’s what kept me. Vindictive little bastogne!”
“Then why so happy Steve?” I asked genuinely puzzled, “what’s with the grin?”
The grin turned into an obviously forced yet highly offensive snicker. Then he surprised me with a little unprecedented insight: "Did you know? There is only one thing worse than being sober when everyone else is drunk? That’s right, being drunk when everybody else is bloody stoned."
The poor misfortunate man had believed, not unreasonably I suppose, that the aim of the game was to make the loser, the thrower of the last fatal seven, spend a huge and bothersome amount of money. If this were in fact to be true, then he had definitely come up trumps.
“There I was, handcuffed and offering to pay fifty Euros cash for that one tube of Vaseline in my pocket, but no, not good enough for the potato guy, ‘We always prosecute thieving scumbags, no remorse, no compunction’ and so we had to wait for the police to show up. The Gendarmes of course did not respond to yet another call from Dillmart bemoaning their pesky pilferers – Did you know? There is no proper word for shoplifting in French. Not that the cops had better things to do of course, just more interesting things like crossword puzzles, picking their noses or patrolling nudist beaches and the like. So there I was, stumped, waiting for an imaginary policeman to come and arrest me, when I finally realised who the fat chump in sunglasses actually was, I upped my offer to a twenty-five thousand Euro donation to help hungry and thirsty little persons with diseases in Africa and Voila! Here I am."
“You lose my friend .”
Steve stared ghoulishly now at a fraught and furious Lister.
“Done deal!" I said, chuffed, looking to Maurin for approval. "I guess we’d better have another round?”
“Well that must be something of a set back to you Steve, particularly with the mountain stages coming up tomorrow?”
“Absolutely Brian, a bit of a setback indeed with the gargantuan Alpe de Huez looming on my distant horizon.”
Maurin, grinning like the cat's uncle, dutifully informed Steve that he had in fact been eliminated, as according to his rules, the loser was the one that failed to accomplish his forfeit, nothing to do with the cash.
“You’re out mate” he said, languidly passing him the joint.
“What do you mean out?”
Steve was indignant, outraged, “I did swipe summat," he said, and yes, it did sound fairly odd, coming from the lips of a son of San Francisco. “Take a look at this!”
From a pocket he produced a slim but dense volume, entitled The Dillmart Black Book, sub-titled The Absolute Bastards Guide To Fast Moving Consumer Goods And I Ain’t Talking Ferraris.
Taz it would seem had known all along just how loaded was Maurin’s little die and deftly conjured up the first seven. ” Someone,” she said mysteriously, “will have to moped along, buck naked to the famous local police station, the Gendarmerie de Saint Tropez, march straight in and declare that they find blue to be a particularly ugly colour."
“High five Taz!”
That’s my girl, this really was a haymaker, a Saturday night special, God let it be Lister. And so it was; Lister to play and Rodney to pay. Pay what? The bail money I suppose. Let’s wait and see.
Fired up on Nucky balls, Lister showed little fear or apprehension of the task in hand, but insisted before setting off, that his teeth must be white and his breath fresh. So after an hour or so in the ship’s bathroom he was finally ready for some action. He arrived back on deck and proceeded to strip down; off with his crimple cut sta-prest pants and matching blazer, off with his mauve and subtly embroidered polo shirt, obviously stolen from an Italian guy, off with his string vest and cock-sock… There he stood, appallingly plump and almost naked imploring us to allow him to keep his little white socks and pink deck shoes…All right, all right, in this kind of situation there is little difference between buck naked and bare assed, so we were indulgent and bent the rules. Maurin started the bike and nimbly hoisted the boy into the saddle and he was off, yodelling happily, off on the greatest and stupidest adventure of his life.
Once inside the hallowed barracks, Lister found himself confronted with a rosy, very black-moustachioed and rather toothsome young sergeant and immediately let rip with his set piece:
”Blue is an ‘orrible colour.” He announced decisively.
“Couldn’t agree more sir,” said the soldier, without looking up, “brown is one of my own personal favourites, yes brown sir, everything comes out brown in the end, if you know what I’m saying sir?”
If Lister had been able to give a thought as to the possible consequences of boldly going naked into a police station and being rather rude, then this would have been beyond his wildest imaginings, so he tried it again, trying to remember Taz’s exact words.
“I find blue to be a particularly shitty colour matey,” he said at last.
“Who you jivin' with this cosmic debris young man?” Said the Gendarme patiently, “if you have any crimes to report, lost cats, parking offences, noisy neighbours. A stolen bicycle perhaps or," with a pregnant pause, nudity, please fill in this form or I shall have to bid you goodnight for I am a busy man.”
Then that word again, Nudity. "Nu nu nudio he stammered on, “there has been a deplorable re," searching for a gendarmental kind of word. "A recrudescence of nudity", he announced with delight. "A downright recrudescence of the beastly stuff, right here in this pleasant and well intentioned town. Not at all nice, not one bit.”
Lister was nonplussed and turned on his ass to leave. Looking up finally, the handsome Gendarme stopped him in his tracks and stared at him straight in the ass. “One moment Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly have you been smoking to come in here all undressed like that?”
Undressed, nonplussed but stoned out of his tiny, Lister turned again. “Why, Nucky Balls officer, or to be more precise… Nuckminster Listerine!”
“Well if you could see your way sharing some of it with me and my boys in displeasing uniforms, there would be no little advantage to your good self in the matter of being arrested and left to rot, bruised and battered in jail…if you grasp the trend of my observation, sir?”
Lister grasped it all right, but exalted by his spectacular exploit of nomenclature, he invited the good fellow to call on him the very next morning, then turned again and ran.
"Nuckmister Listerine. Eureka! Me dad allers said ‘where there’s muck there’s money’ and ‘e were bloody right."
When he finally found his way back to the old port, the docks and eventually his own berth, in a frenzy of self loathing and fear, the unclad Yorkshireman clambered back aboard only to find his house guests drowsily queuing at the gates of delirium. He toyed briefly with the idea of heaving too, then kinda, sorta, the enormity of the day’s events struck him, hit him hard and he flew into a mindless, distraught, no, berserk fit of northern English pique.
“Twenty-five grand outta pocket, baring me bum in front of t'coppers, what a bloody day. This ends now! Bugger off! All of yer. Just bugger off now!”
He grabbed a roll of notes from a drawer of his bureau and went in search of Steve, finding him easily, snoring peacefully in a lifeboat and luckily for him with his mouth wide open, the most convenient orifice in which to stuff the cash before his dumb lifeless body was thrown mercilessly overboard.
“Ecky thump! Bugger off all of yer, off me boat if yer know what’s good for yer.”
He was on the rampage, screaming, insane. He began running up and down the decks shaking his fists and dongling his dongler.
“Fuck off, all o’ yer, just fuck offff! Lozzi! up t’anchor, we’re off ‘ome!”
We did finally fish Steve out of the water, choking on banknotes and took the trembling wreck across to the nearest bistrot. Someone ordered coffee and brandy for four, while I quietly slipped away to a little side-street boutique and spent most of the cash on a brand spanking new outfit worthy of lonesome cowboy Bertrand, in the leaders vest. This is Steve Milbona crossing the line, winning the race to pay off the fine.
When I got back with some neatly ribboned parcels, they were at it again, that little die, seven-up. They really don’t give a crap about anything those three, how proud I was. It had been decided that we were to retire to a little Chinese karaoke bar that Maurin knew of to sing daft French tearjerkers and what was left of Lister’s money should more or less cover the drinks.
“But what about Dillmart and those poor starving children?” Taz enquired sweetly.
Steve broke into an engaging textbook laugh that I would never have dreamed he was capable of, "Dillmart? Dillmart?" Still laughing, “what makes you think I actually went to Dillmart? I found that little volume of filth right here, left on a table while I was drinking all afternoon and now it’s at the bottom of the sea where it belongs. You didn't really think that I went to Dillmart. Did you?”
CONCERNING THE COLOUR OF MENS' HAIR AND YOUNG RUPERT'S
the spring I shopped alone, dined alone and pursued
my most determined resolve to drink more beer right
up to the next level. What made Milwaukee famous had
made a proper little boozer out of me, of which,
more later. That spring, whenever possible, I spent
the early evenings with a short walk, either by
myself or in the company of Denis, a council
workman, or 'Leaf Sweeper, Higher Grade', as he
liked to put it. Then I would go to Ludo's, where I
would sit outside smoking at the regulars' table
with men who seemed to me, mostly under the age of
eleven with close cropped and stiffly gelled hair,
or much older men so debilitated by forty years of
hard labour as bouncers at the local looney bin that
somehow they managed to drink even more than my good
self. After sundown, I habitually ran some old
videotapes, or performed a solo live version of that
long forgotten but brilliant show "An Evening With
Rodney Skirvishely." I remember now that the
producers had wanted to call it "Rod Skirvishely and
Friends." Until I pointed out just how far
they were pushing the envelope with that sort of
idea. There were however some exceptions to this
habit, times for instance, when I was invited by one
of the neighbours to go for a pleasant ride on one
of their tractors or to have dinner in their
Drinking for the most part though remained a
solitary pursuit, but occasionally Steve would pedal
his way back to the house all panting and sweaty, so
who was I to refuse him a little refreshment? One
day, extenuated, seated dubiously in a shiny
skin-suit on one of his array of tiny trembling
bollocks, I knew for sure that there was some kind
of party thing going on in those pants. He took just
one look at my offering of Maternus quality pilsener
in a brown plastic bottle and his face, at first
just ghostly, turned into a radiant but malevolent
"They’ve finally opened one of those?" He scowled. "One of those!"
I told him about my adventures in Aldi Markt where I had bought beer, cheap enough to keep an honest (Dillmart) man awake at nights. It's all in these lightweight canisters you know! But honestly, how did they expect me to eat that ham? I had taken care to fill my basket with beer, chocolate and toothpaste, of which there was only the one variety, not the customary four hundred; I would really have preferred to have eaten the gross hog of a manager, breakfast lunch dinner and tea, for a year. I had witnessed a rather dramatic nervous meltdown of a deeply demented checkout girl, who had been trained to be a hyper-active, multi-tasking monkey, but spoke to me vacantly more like a brain damaged parrot. I flashed a cheeky forefinger at a spy camera and flew. Out demons out!
Saddened, disgusted but with a new world record: sixty six-packs piled onto my new home welded beer trailer. Three hundred and sixty!
"Scum of the earth" cried Steve at this, "Miserable, spiteful enchanters. String them up by the gills, like sardines on a twig."
I was about to interrupt when I was arrested by quite a commotion on the street outside. A cart pulling up the narrow lane full of the most diverse and strange personages. First I saw death itself, John with a human face tattooed upon his head; next was Miss Mari-bel Parsons, an angel, her hair smooth and glistening, tied back taut like sexy black magpie wings. At the feet of death was the devil himself called Gendarme, with a bow, quiver and arrows, side-striped trousers and a starched sky blue blouse. There was also a knight in full armour, except that he had no armour or helmet, just espadrilles and a felt hat decked with a single coloured feather, like a bee.
All this took me somewhat aback, but struck terror into the heart of poor Steve; I was quite pleased with it all really, but knowing me, knowing you, I had of course already quaffed a generous skin-full of das feine Aldi nectar and I truly believed that some new perilous adventure was presenting itself to me. Under this impression, as Sheriff and with a spirit prepared to face any danger, I planted myself in front of the cart, and in a loud and menacing tone, exclaimed, "carter, or coachman, or devil, or whatever you may be, tell me at once who you are and whither you might be going, and who, I must ask are these odd people in your wagon? This thing looks considerably more like a highly customized Toyota Hilux than any regular cart by the way, If you don't mind me saying."
The devil replied quietly, "Monsieur, we are players of the traveling kind and we have been acting the play 'Malcolm of the Maliere' this morning, in Gonfaron, a village behind a rather large hill, and we have to act it again this afternoon, act it before cameras. A film I do declare. Rupert de Mauban, film maker and projectionist hors pair awaits us at this very moment with aggravated impatience at his isolated homestead where we are going, and that without the trouble of undressing and dressing again; we go in the costumes in which we perform. That lad there appears as death, that girl as an angel, that woman is the assistant manager's wife. Fernando is a Portuguese mercenary and tyre fitter, and I the devil in uniform; one of the principal characters of the play, for in this company I take all the leading parts. If you want to know anything more about us, ask me and I will answer with the utmost exactitude. As an officer of the law I am a little short on the proverbial and much overrated grey matter, but as I am also a devil, I am all powerful and I know everything, with the unfortunate exception of not having the faintest idea of where I might find the château of Madame Actimel de Mauban!"
While he was talking, fate so willed it that one of the company all dressed up in a lovely party frock with a great number of bells, and armed with three full blown hog bladders at the end of a fiendish stick, joined them, and this merriest of Andrews approaching, began flourishing his stick and banging the ground with the bladders. Cutting capers with great jingling of the bells, he took the bit between his teeth and laid hands on me with greater strength than the bones of his anatomy ever gave any promise of. He stared emptily, vacant, grinning stupidly but thoroughly nasty for much of that.
“Give me some of your beer, impudent, ill-mannered, simpering little hottie!"
It was about four in the afternoon when the sun, veiled in clouds, with subdued light and tempered beams, I called with no sign at all of hotness or inconvenience, “Steve! Steve! The supervisor wants to see you!”
To be honest, I find it very difficult to believe that this country still has so many roving minstrels, extremely piss poor circuses, itinerant bull-fighters and Punch and Judy shows to entertain the masses; They even have a name and a very special status; they are the "intermittents de spectacle," but I must warn all you lucky ones here on holiday in France right now, a Johnny foreigner, johnny moped, Johnny bloody Halliday or his bleached blond look-a-like will be making a Grand Spectacle of himself in your town this very night. That is a promise, and you really are the lucky ones, for there are others, in further flung, less attractive parts of the country where even Brits fear to tread, there the crafty impersonators of Mike Brandt, Sylvie Vartan, Dalida and Gerard Le Norman are staple Saturday night Bal Populaire fodder. I have no words to describe how truly appalling these shows are, but it is good to know that there will never ever ever be a 'France Has Got Talent' television show coming to a TV screen near you anytime soon.
And so it was that Steve and I hopped onto the ample running boards and in one graceful motion I directed the charabanc to continue up the narrow, mean irregular alley, known locally as Rodeo Drive, which to me will forever be Disappointment Row. Up to the church, the uninspiring Our Lady Of The Colombians. Our climb from the graveyard was a category two Steve assured, but strewn with fallen trees and broken rocks made for difficult going in the overladen prehistoric four-wheeled jalopy.
On the less spiteful descent to the mysterious Malière valley, I fell into some kind of conversation with the bouncing bladder man. He was the executive producer, autistic director and occasional cameraman, a ball-boy, bottle popper and proprietor of a small tea shop in the Home Counties, and his name was Ralph 'Nasty' Parsons.
"How many drinks are found in common containers
these days?" I asked him pleasantly.
"I ordered two!" He replied cheekily with two fingers. " And I still haven't been paid for the first one.."
"Master Crumble! I cajoled him freely, you speak in such a way that I cannot understand you, explain yourself more clearly, and tell me what is this you are saying most amusing madman."
While I was talking in this strain, the gendarme was endeavouring to persuade me that the fellow was out of his senses, as I might perceive by his deeds and strange expressions, and that I need not press the matter any further. "Those bells prevent him from straying too far and are a signal to young girls of the predator's approach."
So in courteous and well-chosen words I told him just what he was to do with the dimpled little hip-flask he had been brandishing so excitedly in my direction without actually offering me a nip.
We swept along the heavily pot-holed track which carefully traced the slight meanderings of this most modest of rivers, following a trail of Heineken bottles thrown by my friend Vincent de la Verne the insouciant forester and occasional pugilist. As I looked about me I found the sky seemed more transparent here, and the sun shone with a strange brilliancy, then a delightful pathway of green leafy trees presented itself to my eyes and charmed with its verdure, while my ears were soothed by the sweet unchained melody of the countless jays of gay plumage flitting to and fro among the interlacing branches. Here is a brook whose limpid waters, like liquid crystal, ripple over fine sand and white pebbles that look like sifted gold and the purest of pearls. Then suddenly we sight a gorgeous palace with walls of pink stucco, turrets of Portland, so marvelous is its structure the workmanship is still more rare. Having seen all this, what could be more charming than to meet the lady of the house?
Lady de Mauban, like Miss Maggie Magill, lived on a hill; she enjoyed a reclusive but far from solitary existence here in her castle, The Haven Of Peace. On the one hand you might say she was a prettily petite, Barbie like thing, on the other you must be certain that she was a fiercely independent lady with a mission: road repair! Day after day she would smash splintering rocks in the bright sunshine in a pair of monstrous wire goggles where the tiara should have been, until she had finally become fearlessly bonkers. By her own confession she "never noticed a thing," which was a blessing in disguise, for the lady had notions of her own, notions more in keeping with the days of Francois Mitterand than our modern times. She had been a Post Office clerk and was very strict concerning "the article." She would rather kill her son and die herself if ever little Rupert were to fall from grace and get a mercenary job.
Son Rupert was a pleasant looking lad, slender and supple but without any noticeable personality or intelligence. Every two or three days he would leave his hut to meet the postman as he passed along the road. Postie would pull up his yellow Fiat van to hand him a few necessities; several days’ worth of bread, a cheese, and a basket of eggs. If ever he failed to appear, he would leave the basket or parcel under some bushes behind the nearest milestone. All this made it easy for Rupert to conceal his "unfortunate condition." He had suffered atrociously from the deplorable teachings of the Education Nationale, and with a lucky literary Baccalaureate in pocket, or under his belt, all he could dream of was to become a film maker, like all the rest of them.
Perhaps I should explain “the hut." Young Rupert lived his life in a lofty shed of cherry bark and sweet chestnut leaves of his own construction that he had curiously named The Fin Carré, intended for the reception of his mother’s tradesmen and suitors. Here they were ushered in and seated alongside each other in church pews, while from an orange box pulpit she preached to them a sermon on hair curling, chestnut earrings and filling in horrid holes in the road, adjuring her window cleaners and cutlery suppliers implicitly to obey her briefs in the matter of style, threatening them with pecuniary excommunication if they failed to follow to the letter the instructions contained in her monitories and defenestrations.
Lady Actimel had earned and acquired the reputation of an eccentric, which she enhanced by wearing costumes of velvet workingmen’s trousers and heavily-embroidered waistcoats. Often in place of a cravat, she would sport a golden sprig of Mimosa in the seductive opening of one of her superb collection of blue and white exquisitely striped shirts. She made use of the most costly perfumes and dressed herself to the utmost advantage to render her charms as conspicuous as possible. For all these faults, the lady was as adept with the chain saw as she was with with a weed-eater and gave famous dinners to brothers of the quill to lament even the most futile of her misadventures.
Tonight though, it was to be a celebratory repast, Rupert's cameras would be ready to roll at daybreak under the empty icy stare of jumping, jingling Ralph. In the dining room, hung in black and opening on to a lavish garden with trim walks and a little pool now bordered with mastic and filled with ink; clumps of chestnuts here and there, mighty cork oaks and a lone gigantic open-arse medlar. Dinner was served on a table draped in black, adorned with bunches of violets and dung baskets, lit by a sparkling candelabra of Sheffield steel and wax tapered chandeliers from which green flames blazed.
From grim-edged plates with black napkins we drank rat's-tail soup and ate half frozen bread, fat worm infested olives, smoked chorizo sandwiches, wild hare with truffle gravy and vanilla fudge. Then puddings, nectarines en regalia, lemon pipers and water melons in Easter hay. We sipped arbousier liqueur out of dark glasses, wines from Corsica and Beaucaire, then after the coffee and walnut brandy we partook of home crafted porters and stouts brewed with rich sweet chestnut malts.
An evening like many another you may well think for the illustrious gentleman of Les Couillons and his musclular companion, but how bored we were by all this frenchified wit and stylish eccentricity. I decided simply to observe my company and only speak when spoken to, answer politely if I should be posed a question.
"More beer Mister Skirvishely?"
Two odd things I noticed over the course of one
short evening, one appalling meal; the colour of
Steve's long and flowing hair changed almost
imperceptibly from that dreadful strawberry blonde
to an amazing and startling red. Even more bizarre
and in fact rather more unnatural, I deduced that
Lady Actimel had quite inexplicably taken an instant
fancy to the loathsome Ralph, a fancy that quite
frankly was bordering on infatuation. Despite this
rather extraordinary turn of events, we did accept
the good lady's kind invitation to stay the night
and she made it clear that arrangements could be
made for our return to the village in the morning.
We were shown to our comfortable quarters in the darkest of pitch black nights by a chap called Michael. Nudged into a small detached, sweet smelling straw filled studio apartment with a goodly supply of fresh water, littered with a few small pieces of carrots and apple peel. The following morning, to our great amazement, Ralph popped his head through the stable door.
"He's to bring your breakfast up here," he said
peremptorily; but then, as if he had finally
sobered up, he looked at me a little quizzically and
"I should think there would be not much of a body
one could talk to here in West Hertfordshire."
"Happiness," he continued enigmatically, rather as if he were testing the word, "happiness, you know is a warm living room, hot water and a hefty electricity bill. Well water anyway."
I made a point of further ignoring him.
"Do you ever pay calls, or know of a decent book?" He asked me abruptly.
"Baskerville's Natural History of Congreton," said
I without hesitation inviting him in immediately and
offering the copy that I always carry to my guest.
Leather bound, I could never read that in a
"Well, Rodney," said Ralph, as he sat down in a stinking straw pile of urine soaked shit, filled his pipe and looked about him, "this is all very nice and comfortable."
In the chill morning light and without the flask and bladders I saw a rather different Ralph; no more than sixty, of medium height, fairly stout and with a nasty-nature look. His head was very similar to those found in many Spanish paintings of the fourteenth century. His brief moment of equilibrium was shortly replaced by the self-conscious artifice in the style of mannerism. Not at all handsome in the plastic sense of the word, he gave an impression of little strength of character and much less intelligence. His short hair stood up straight over a low, loosely-developed forehead. A single strange and poorly designed nose stopped short, as if cut off suddenly above the upper lip which was covered with a shady mustache; over the whole chin was a sparsely-cropped beard. His mean, often ironical look was so empty that one felt that behind it there was a mind always actively at work serving himself, interpreting his own words, analyzing each of his tiny ticks and gestures. His odd, oval head was appropriate to his name, quick and dirty, with the unending nuance of a single syllable. Ralph.
"I spend at least three hours every day reading The BBC home page Rodney," he remarked. "And then there's The Arctic Monkeys, porn and the weather forecast and all for free in Borello's Wi-Fi cafe."
You are bored to death living here all year." I told him, impatiently.
"Oh golly no, I grant you I should be bored if I did nothing. But I can play blow football with my bum and write plays too you know. I write plays," he repeated. "Four second plays, and I've already finished two-thirds of one and I'm only waiting the summer holidays to finish it. And it's not bad. No, some of it's really rather good."
Shortly before one o'clock Lady actimel desisted from her labors and decided on the spot to open a vegetarian restaurant with a poodle parlour and all the trimmings thrown in. The rest of us were given more sandwiches, which we ate beneath the mighty cherry trees of her Elysian fields.
"The bare branches against the limpid sky do one so much good," Actimel asserted, as if she were shopping in Marks and Spencer's.
"But one can't lunch on trees alone, Actimel darling!" Ralph said with concern.
"I confess I don't know how you all manage it," I remarked. "I should sleep all the afternoon if I took such a hearty meal in the middle of the day."
"But I met you only a fortnight ago at the Natural History Museum!" Ralph exclaimed. "And then you sent me such an absurd and perverted letter, all expletives."
"Well, Steve," I said at length, "Do you have anything amusing to say about our situation?"
The golden sun was lit and its lustre was reflected
brightly in the polished glasses; good wine was
passed round the table, but this was a very
difficult matter for him to put into ordinary words;
poetry would have done it better justice, but so
fantastically attired, I insisted that Steve should
abstain from poetry.
IN WHICH THE FAIR LADY PIPPA RESCUES TWO CAPTIVES AND AN
ESCAPEE AND ALL ARE AMPLY REWARDED.
I don't really know just how long
we were kept prisoner; days, weeks or even months. "No
blindfolds, handcuffs or worming tablets
please," I stipulated; my demands were respected
to the letter.
This ninth chapter will be exceedingly brief and will refer mainly to Lady Actimel's dislike of electrical lighting and horrible meanness with regards to candles and also relates that Ralph, the amateur naturist of the district, while prowling out on herbaceous open downs heard close to him the sound of a man filming whilst going, as it seemed to him, in the direction of Aberdeen. This phenomenon was so striking and disturbing that all his philosophical tranquility vanished and in great haste he hurtled down the steepness of the hill quite as fast as he could go. Down towards Tangie Town. People down there really like to get it on.
Our days would begin at dawn and end shortly after a well-bred dusk when Black Michael led us unwillingly to morning assembly. In the light of day Black Michael was a more clever looking chap than I could ever have imagined. He stood sternly at about four foot six, with a sturdy barrel body, short spindly legs and fat but shapely knees. His long jet black liquorice hair all but concealed a deep charcoal face and startlingly bright, ever present eyes. His stubby little beard and strange expressiveness amused me to the end. He kept steady, unrelenting guard on us, sometimes striding adroitly to block our path or kicking out playfully, occasionally giving us a glimpse of his even, square, yellowish teeth. As if to say 'no, do as I say.' He showed no signs of violence, or even ill-intent, just a grim determination to keep us in our place and do as we were bid.
These early mornings always began in Rupert's hut. Actimel would brief us on our chores for the day, which generally speaking involved cleaning stuff and cutting stuff up, stuff which had usually all been cut and cleaned the previous day, and always followed by the promise of rapid promotion to the ranks of door to door mayonnaise salesmen, that is, if our cleaning and cutting proved to be satisfactory. Our bodies and soul were kept together with a regular diet of myrtle soup, figatelli on partially thawed, and, no, I'm not complaining, more beer. The hearty chestnut brew that I definitely could drink between meals, with the absolute certainty that it would ruin my appetite. Black Michael, to my surprise, shunned the Corsican sausage stuff, drank his beer with great moderation but appeared to be an inveterate breadfan.
There were great comings and goings at the castle, social calls and business deals, mending things and borrowing things, sometimes even giving things back. Amorous gentlemen, hopeful youths, goatherds and meter readers, but all Steve and I could do was look on hopelessly from the captivity of the ever watchful Michael. One day even Mrs. Namnam, the lady Mayoress of Les Couillons pulled up the leafy driveway in her splendid turn of the century beady eyed pastel Twingo and the two ladies spent a great part of the afternoon in and around the jet black pool in clouds of smoke, interminable giggling and much toplessness.
Meanwhile, the filming went on sporadically, I caught the occasional unpleasant sight of the devilish Gendarme, concealed behind a tree, leaping out on cue to catch a fleeing Ralph, who had stolen the leading role of the dashing Malcolm his very self............... "Stop thief!"
"Catch me if you can buffoon!" Ralph stammers giddily with sticks and bladders aloft, racing valiantly away with a smirk, off to the next scene of nobbling shepherdesses, waitresses and God only knows what else.
I could not have been more surprised to be woken one night, shortly after the stroke of twelve by impromptu rehearsals. Actimel had messed up and smoked special cigarettes with Namnam again and had easily been persuaded to accept the part of the hapless Purina. From my cell I heard distinctly the unmistakable sounds of attempted quick-fire shagging. I can only suppose it was that famous seduction scene when Malcolm finally has it away. The whole village knew that monkey business with Dame Actimel was like a credit card transaction in a supermarket: "you may insert it now", and a few seconds later, "you may remove it Sir!"
Ralph had not maintained his monthly payments, his card was blank and worthless. "Look! No moving parts." He squealed.
Try rubbing it on your jumper or something, friend.
"Mamma mia! Cut! Cut! Take two! "
Rupert had been discreetly filming the scene hoping to add some spontaneity to his otherwise wooden boy production, but was as deeply dissatisfied with Ralph's pitiful performance as his own dear mother.
"Sometimes, occasionally, life gets better," was a maxim of my dear old uncle Orlando, a versifier of some repute who spoke out of a ripe experience of the world. So regretting the loss of my favourite book, but without immediately trying to send an SOS, I honoured his advice by putting up with my lot for a day or two more here at "The Commodore." I did try call up Lowell George though, for a bit of a chat, I wanted to tell him that I had finally captured bastard Ralph and that he was up to his old heinous tricks, but I remembered suddenly that poor Lolo was dead.
Then one day, up that old leafy drive comes a lovely lady on a long grey quarter horse called Buttella, more like a horse and three quarters, I was thinking nastily as she drew up sharpish and spotted the three of us; Steve, myself and Black Michael skiving a little in the shade of a richly aromatic gum tree, rolling fags and chomping fresh grass. She halted immediately and without dismounting, looked lovingly at Michael. "Chiquitita"! She called out in chiding dismay, " no Sweet peas for you! Naughty naughty girl running away from Mums like that, chasing cars! How many times do I have to tell you? Bad, bad girl that you are!"
Black Michael shuddered with a whinny of pleasure, and wobbled her fat bum most appealingly, the lovely cavalry lady made a sterling effort to remove her ridiculous helmet and fetching but rather comical Lone Ranger mask; then, oh my God! Why must this happen to me? All that hair, it just came pouring out, beautiful platinum locks (neatly brushed) flowing gracefully down, almost to the tips of her ears.
"Gentlemen". She said: "Lady Philippa of Peckham, at your service, how relieved I am to find my darling little pony in such capable hands and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
We were free! Lady Pippa turned with Chiquitita in tow, hesitated a moment and from deep in her saddle bags produced a jar of mayonnaise and a calling card: "my friends, please accept this token of my appreciation, a little enchantillon, a sample if you will, and lovely sauce it is too, try it with artichokes, lobster or cheese salad butties. Delicious."
As we waved a fond farewell I examined the card: "Peter's Perfect mayonnaise. Made with farm fresh eggs courtesy of Blossom, Odette, Deidre and Martine; beaten up mercilessly with a hint of mustard and lashings of fresh virgin olive oil, courtesy of Bill, Nina, Noushka, Dave, Chas, Melissa and countless more of our late and lamented darling green babies far too numerous to mention."
They had gone no more than twenty paces without once looking back and I called out gaily, "Lady Philippa! For two points, which member of ABBA was not born in Sweden?"
"Easy peasy!" She replied to my unprecedented surprise. "My fifth best mate is Norwegian and I happen to know that Frida was born there too! Ha! Emboldened by the two points she had so casually taken, she went on. "My worst nightmare would be groundhog day every Friday, but listen up! This Friday it's fleetwood Mac, chip sarny and red wine. Don't be late and bring your dancing shoes."
Oh crap, another trip to Decathlon! (You know you want it.)
OF WHAT HAPPENED
TO SKIRVISHELY IN A GRAND GARDEN WHILST IN PURSUIT
OF DON HENLEY, ALONG WITH OTHER MATTERS WORTHY OF
HIS WIT. ACHTUNG BONO!
OF WHAT HAPPENED TO SKIRVISHELY IN A GRAND GARDEN WHILST IN PURSUIT OF DON HENLEY, ALONG WITH OTHER MATTERS WORTHY OF HIS WIT. ACHTUNG BONO!
"Can't help about the shape I'm in
I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin
Don't don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to
Thin bad luck is a very a gruesome thing. One night in the first month of heat when I was as cross as two sticks, I was sleeping 'fitfully',
as they say, and a
recurring dream struck back at me. I saw the man
clearly, he had few front teeth and was missing
something else, a head, perhaps or was he simply
carrying it under his arm? I saw him though, as sharp
as a knife. He was walking hurriedly up my street,
banging randomly on doors. Then there were
gunshots and frantic voices, more shots and a cry of
relief. "There! I told you so she's dead." Then he
staggered up to my front door, he climbed onto the
step, knocked rather loudly and when I answered, ooh
la la! He threw a basin of blood in my face. Then
suddenly the village was overrun with more headless
men with guns and a huge black helicopter blew through
the pitch black of the night, and I can still hear its
rumbling many times in the month of June.
Troubled times for Skirvishely. Troubled times indeed. My joints continued to bother me a good deal. they often ached at nights and kept me awake; a sudden spasm would shoot through ithem and in this changeable weather it felt like gout, but it was not.
One morning on waking I saw from my attic window the blue sky glowing in the sun above the neighboring houses. The dogs tied tightly were barking loudly; a dismal monotonous noise of pointless conversation rose up from the streets, ullo john, ullo peter, cough, spit bother and shout. So I went out, my spirits as dim as dusk to go about my daily routine. Everybody I met seemed to be grumbling; an air of misery appeared to pervade everything, even in the warm light of spring. One might almost have said that a breeze of unhappiness was blowing through the town and the sight of unwelcome tourists whom I saw in the streets in their morning straw hats held a look of hidden bitterness and deception; they walked with such a languid indifference that it filled my heart with agitation and annoyance. Decidedly, the air of this village does not resemble any other air. It has in it something indescribably heavy and dull, which filled me with a strange longing to be out in the woods.
Things seem complicated to me because they appear benign, distasteful because they are intangible yet appear so simple. Twitter! I just don't get it. But wait! Rodney was British and also having a small share of brains, was not so very long in forming a sort of opinion upon such matters. If only he could find a trite uplifting phrase to sum things up and reassure. “You'll never get a second chance of giving a first impression" or, "the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.” Achtung! Bono. Fucking brilliant mate, I'll give it some thought. But please give a big hand to Myles O'Donovan, writing in 1969 to a friend, wait for it:.........."Real men do not speak French." How clever is that?
It is in fact comforting.
If the Banshee laments her woes with triumph, at least she sensibly never strays beyond her shores, but dwells always in her own country. (Although a distinguished writer on anthropology assures me that he had heard her on 1st January 1970, near Ipanema South America, as he rode through a deep forest. She was dressed in pale yellow, and raised a lazy cry like the yawn of a Frenchman with a harmonica.
Sometimes I think of home, of going home. I am nearly ***ty years old in case you were wondering, I sometimes wonder about my past, how, why, when I came to live in this place of all places. Expatriation does not affect me so very much these days, in fact not at all. but the brutal facts of my life and the sight and sound of other humanity calls for cries of indignation, there is a shudder that goes down your spine at sight of certain unpleasant little people, but Imagination creates reality, so you cannot complain about the future and blame it on the past. I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass.
I walk in the woods almost every morning, can in hand. I sit down on a rotten roadside stump and drink. Sometimes I let my beverage fall on my knees, to dream, to listen to the life of these woody Maures around me and to enjoy the infinite repose of these busy woodlands and share a drop or two with drunkass beetles and butterflies.
This particular morning I perceived that I was not the only one to frequent my own favourite spot. It was our peasant Page. I don't know if there is such a name, but everyone called him Page (pronounced parge, trans.) Robert Parge; it had to be some kind of Led Zeppelin in Joke of course, but there he was. A thick-set, rather well-grown peasant of fifty, with several good grey hairs sprouting unevenly from his dark brown pate. I knew him, but had never ever happened to speak to him till then. Holy Shit! He stopped his big Honda wagon thing with quite a jolt and within an inch of my life. "Holy crap matey!" I cried. Sitting there breathless, I caught his eye with one of my own and with my hand his sleeve, he saw how frightened I was. "Excuse me for speaking like that sir, but you came upon me so suddenly that you quite frightened me," said I, frowning and apologizing. "Just so," answered the mysterious gentleman, with a bitter enigmatic smile.
Then he looked at me sadly, rather apologetic himself in a humbug sort of way. "I am muddled, Sir," he said simply. "Every night, in the dead of night as I pretend to be asleep, my wife creeps into my room and steals a shoe, not a full pair, just one shoe, can you imagine that? But really, so sorry, Sir, I did not mean to drive about like that; excuse me, but I am looking for her. Haven't you seen my lady hobbled with golden buckles, corsair pants, a crisp pink blouse and an outlandish gray hat with wide brim. My wife is gone a missing and her mind is Tiffany twisted!"
And then I did remember. This woman; she had rather astonished me at first and I had spotted her on more than one occasion. Stealthy as a cat at dawn or dusk, she was not so much thin but, angular, grimacing and smiling. Her bright eyes were restless beneath her eyelids which blinked continuously. She carried in her hand a superb cane with a good gold knob, which must have been for her some glorious souvenir.
I had watched her once or twice through the leafy walls, I even followed her at a distance, stopping at a turn behind a thick tree so as not to be seen. One particular morning when she thought she was quite alone, I observed her in silence. She began to make the most unusual motions. First she would give some little, almost imperceptible jumps, then make a bow; then, with her slim legs, she would give a huge leap in the air, clapping her feet as she did so, and then turn round cleverly, skipping and frisking about in a rather comical manner, smiling as if she had an audience. Shiver, me lady! Shiver! Shiver and shake, I tell you ! "
And then at last she noticed me. We stood both, paved with amazement, asking ourselves which one of us was crazy, she or I? Of course I should not drink so much, but often all that is missing is the will to stop.
"I must strike you as being rather tiresome and rude." she said to me defensively.
Then suddenly, without waiting for a smug reply she came towards me like an actor on the stage, then bowed and beamed a gracious smile, and kissing my hand she backed away quite theatrically, (as stage actors do), her hand trembling, she retreated to a pair of untrimmed bushes behind her.
From that distance she continued. "My dear sir, acorns speak louder than words, I am in terror, I am in alarm!"
After that I never lost sight of her and each morning she began anew these most outlandish of exercises. I was wildly anxious to speak to her again. I decided to risk it, and I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell. Then one day, after greeting her, I said:
"I think you have lost your galosh...."
"Oh yes, thank you, thank you. I keep meaning to get rubber ones but the foot gets so hot in rubbers,"
"It is a beautiful day, Madame."
At these words, the lady blushed deeply and bowed.
"No sir, every form of refuge has it's price but the weather my friend is just as it used to be."
Then she meandered on happily. "If you wish it, we will be friends," she said.
We did become friends, but not good ones, she never even called me by my name. One day though, out of the blue, she confided foolishly to me:
"I married old Parge, Monsieur. I will introduce you to him if you wish it, but 'il nay pa lar a ce moment', he does not get here till later. His garden, you see, is his delight and his life. It is all that remains of former days. It seems as though he could not exist if he did not have it. It is an old and most distinguished garden as you will see. One seems to breathe an air that has not changed since one was young. My husband spends every afternoon there, but I come in the morning because I get up early and wear these daft wellington boots against the dew drops."
I returned my attention to the bleating Honda man, looked at him with gravity and an ill contrived concerned sort of look; he was slumped at the steering wheel dead to the world . "No Sir", I said gravely, "I have not seen no woman in this neck of the woods. No Never Sir, to be sure."
A day or too later she led me to his garden, but the garden, so tenderly groomed by the trembling hands of Grabsia the groundsman, was empty and full of sheep. A hundred thousand of them chomping. Incessantly chomping, the garden was disappearing before our very eyes, and how she laughed at the sight.
I'm so sorry for people who live in lands where there are no cork oaks," she said. "Robert just says perhaps they have something better, but there couldn't be anything better than cork oaks, could there Rodney? He says the cork oak is the only tree he can identify with any degree of accuracy, but if other people don't know what they are like they are not going to miss them. That I think that is the saddest thing of all."
A moment of silent reflection ensued before we heard the most distinctive squawking of exotic birds in the near distance. Most probably she thought these things were only fit for elaborate cabaret headgear or a Sunday roast, and she may well have been right.
The owner of the fancy birds, a German, by the name of Assman would certainly disagree. He came into view and looked at us with an air of extraordinary pride.
"Tell me," I said to the old man, "are those parrots?"
He gave a start. "Well, of all things that ever were or will be!...The Rainbow Loikeets Monsieur, are the queen of birds, and the birds of queens, do you understand?"
And he began
a long eulogy in a
pompous manner which I did not at all understand. I
wanted to know of the feeding habits, the movements,
breeding prowess, you know, the positions? He tried to
explain to me but he became confused, was amazed at
his inability to make himself understood and became
nervous and worried.
"Oh, what manners! What do you want?"
Then suddenly, turning, he walked away mumbling obstinately to himself "Well I'll just tell you plain that I think you're doing a mighty foolish thing, a risky thing, that's what. Well, and you will find that the person you want goes by the name of Senor Don Henley. Damnation take you, and what a senseless woman she is and today she has a blue hat! My God!"
Rodney's content at this quite nonsensical observation can be ascribed to the extremely good-humoured mood which had overtaken him, a man who was on other occasions of rather a bad-tempered disposition. Though, after all, what a lovely blue hat it was."
"He is such a sly little rogue," Madame Parge told me after he had left.
"He comes here to see friends and show off. He is forever making lying eyes at me although he is knocking on ninety. Then other friends come to see those friends too and they sing and drink beer and stomp on tables long into the night...."
Then I witnessed an unheard-of thing. The four twenty had come and gone, faster than a TGV; the five-fifteen train had pulled away half an hour ago, the clock struck six and suddenly a bright idea came into my head. I ran round and jumped onto the nearest moped, which I am sorry to say was not my own. "Naughty man!" she said complacently, before adding mischievously. "I Knocked him on the head! Yes! Stunned him as he was going downstairs. Hit him from behind with a stool that stood on the landing. He went down those stairs like a bag of old boots.
"Ah! You sceptical person! But what a delightful morality!" Laughed Skirvishely.
"I tell you Rodney, I had no need of his money. Won't you admit that I did it simply out of humanity?"
And then I had another brilliant idea. I returned down one of the roads leading from where I thought I had been to where thought I had come from, going where I should find the doors open, but they were as closed as you could wish them to be. I stood in the wide entrance, a Kangoo stopped outside, a man in uniform, you know the kind of personage with 'Baudet' written boldly on his cap. "Relax" said the nightman, "we are programmed to receive. You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave."
I did not feel safe there, people were going in and out at the officer's will, and I prowled restlessly about for a while. Then I took my courage in both hands and marched right in to the Troquet du Village. Johnny come lately there's a new pub in town. Here I thought I should be able to steal some food and maybe find some discarded clothing, even find some bedding. That seemed to me to be a perfectly acceptable plan.
My idea you see, was to procure clothing to make myself a huddled and anonymous figure once again, then to get some money and recover my books and parcels where they awaited me, then hide. This man of the world was more than ever determined to show what he was made of. After falling in again and again, now here and now there, I found a comforting corner table littered with warm and insular English Newspapers, my bed for the night. I swallowed a great many ballons of pink wine and grapefruit filth and idly skimmed those tabloids before I finally succeeded in making my way out of the bar, in the woefullest of plights, bewrayed from head to foot and as irony would have it leaving my bonnet behind me. Then, having restored myself as best I might and knowing not what other course to take, I returned to the place I might refer to as home and knocked till it was opened to me.
"Ah! C'est vous!" Cried Steve, laying down his knitting and rushing up to me with unfeigned delight. "Good gracious, what a pickle you're in Rodney!"
"How can I cut down on sugar?" I asked him abruptly. "The National Health Service is becoming economically unsustainable, we need proper safeguards Steve"
"Why are you talking such shit Rodney?" Steve asked, "Sugar? You know I never use it except for the hired man's porridge, but wait! Have there been new studies Rod?"
I had fully expected him to say "Clear out, you blackguard! Clear out! What right have you got to get drunk like this?" But as ever Steve welcomed me home and as usual offered me an onion and a stiff drink.
"But what ever will become of her," I remarked plaintively, "deprived of the dear garden of former days, with its mazes, its odour of Mimosa and the past, and the neat cut windings of its hedges? Is he really dead? or just wandering about the countryside in a jockstrap? Is he dancing with grotesque manoeuvrings or doing one of his fantastic minuets in the moonlight, bemoaning his garden cemetery, along the pathways bordered by sheep shit and plastic fences? Begin the beguine."
"We know so much more now than we did 50 years ago Rodney, but frankly, we don't know everything."
'Why, that's rum,' I thought. 'Dashed rum!'
"The memory of a man I met just once haunts me nonetheless, obsesses me, torments me, remains with me like a scar. Why? I do not know. What are these murderous inclinations so commonly found in couples of a certain age? And why should I care about the death of an electric citizen? No doubt you think all this is very absurd Steve?"
"Well now, I dunno," he replied limply. "It's all just baby batter to me and I don't really care for the Eagles."
ANOTHER MAN'S WIFE OR THE HUSBAND UNDER
THE BED. AN EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE? RODNEY
SKIRVISHELY REVEALS ALL.
Now as you must surely know, there come oftentimes to the pleasant villages of this strange and beautiful land intruders from the country of Germany; persons who are commonly mean-spirited and paltry and so structured and sordid of life that their ignorance and thoughtlessness more often than not annoys. They come here in order to live like kings in France, but the best they can hope for is to live like lepers, hermits or tradespeople. With their innate complacency and misplaced satisfaction, they bring with them sturdy reliable cars, bags of pumpernickel and top of the grade brown bottles of breakfast beer in great quantity. They bring boot loads of ample towels too and sheets and hygienic paper and many tinned goods such as sausages. The the next thing you know they are cleaning their hedges and polishing their lawns and showering their very own goodselves; morning, noon and night, then a quick wash and brush up before bed. The neighbours however all have a suspicion that something is not right.
A matching pair of these most elevated beings came hither to Les Couillons, Ernesto soon became one of the most rollicking boys in the whole village and a smug and self-righteous piece of shyte he is to be exact. His discreet and lovely lady wife Marlene von Sküm Bollar was in a certain manner of speaking licensed to do her pleasures in any way she saw fit. Or more precisely in any way he saw fit. Ernesto you see had re-married a much younger and rather comely woman and it had become very necessary to have a large and remote house in which to keep her.
Ernesto had taken the biggest, tallest and most eccentric villa to be found in this village where anybody it would seem could get away with murder. This house had been in the safe hands of generations of wealthy cork stopper manufacturers until one day they became bored with all that wealth, abandoned the cork forests, upped and sold their house to a German and took an Adriatic seaside apartment in Croatia. Near the sea.
It was however inevitable that a person of
such a remarkable appearance and bearing as Herr Ernesto
should become a frequent topic of conversation in such a
village. Opinion was greatly divided about his occupation.
Mrs. Florabest was quite sensitive on the point. When
questioned, she explained very carefully that he was a
"detrimental assimilator," going carefully over the
syllables as one who lives in fear of pratfalls. When asked
what an experimental assimilator was, she would say with
much superiority that most educated people should know such
things and would thus explain that he "did certain things."
Herr Kaufland had had an accident", she said, "which had
rather discoloured his face and hands, and being of a
sensitive disposition, he was averse to any public notice of
Marlene was most dissatisfied with her new lodgings, so bitterly disappointed; it was nothing to her but a run down dilapidated mansion, made all the worse as it received not one ray of sunshine, winter or summer, being set in a park of massive cedar trees from another millennium. For many months and years and seasons she dreamed of little else but to have some friends. Her lord and master had answered her prayers and actually bought her that Mercede-Benz, A thirty eight tonner, what a beauty, but all she really wanted was to do whatever common people do, she wanted to sleep with common people. She wanted to sleep with common people like me!
"Have you got something to tell me wife?" Ernesto asked her one day with great honesty.
"Yes, Ernesto, I'm afraid I have."
"Well, if you got something to say, spittle it out instead of harping of on about nothing."
"I am not harping on about nothing, Ernesto, I am definitely harping on about something."
"We are going to be sociable for once and have a party, a dinner party dear Ernesto, to celebrate Saint Alby's day, a leaving party if that should be the way it turns out, but a party it shall be."
Thenceforward she willfully caused all manner of pimp my home artisans to enter her clean and pleasant quarters by way of a stepladder by way of the roof. Thursday next, her whole house and garden would be the bee's knees, make no mistake. Such men were not exactly Nigel Nice and teddy Tidy of course, but would they care for a big tumbler of beer anyway?
Ernesto who always thought he could adroitly supervise his wife's little schemes was befooled, and by Jove, when Ernesto avouched himself befooled, when it behoved him to be befooled, he altogether divested himself of his bufoonery.
One day this uncommonly sprightly gentleman, came home unsteadily and with difficulty and found his wife at the kitchen door, all distorted, deranged and fearful. He said to her simply and without guile, "What is all this?" The lady, withdrawing into the house where hordes of honest men sat about drinking cold lager and munching bread answered, "Sir, never have I the like of this fright. These poor chaps came fleeing hither dear Ernesto and finding by chance the door wide open, came inside and said to me, all trembling, 'for God's sake, German madam, help us! Unemployment has hit the roof in this country."
Ernesto, believing not one word of his wife's outlandish proclamation, befooled her good and proper and that in the correct German fashion. He told her: "wife, thou didst well to offer these fellows a little brotzeit and I do not reproach your noble action, bring us forth wine, come drink a little wine with me. I have here a wine that is most exquisite and very reasonably priced. Dip into it thy little red lips, that you may drain the cup. Hereafter my sweetheart you shall rejoice and lead a jolly life with such merry men."
In truth, his fury at these unspeakable layabouts who besmirched his perfect home was boundless and he demanded normalization. Accordingly, one morning having freshly wrapped upon his body a very white doublet and a matching apron fresh from the wash, which bespoke him rather as a milkman or a baker than the resplendent person he thought he was or the Bayern München fan as I had at first surmised. At the break of dawn he lay in wait to catch, trap and dispose of these van drivers who climbed unremittingly up his lengthy driveway. On the front doorstep he laid a five hundred Euro note and a nice new galvanized pail of fresh water and a small pitcher of new and deeply discounted Bolognese ware, full of his best Chilean white wine, together with two beakers, which seemed to him to be of pure and honest Silvercrest, so bright they were. He seated himself there, against where they should pass.
After an hour or so had gone by he
remembered that it was a Saturday and that working men have
far more important things to do on that day than working.
Super Sabato! Clearing his throat once more or twice, he
fell to drinking of his wine with such a relish that he
could have made a dead man's mouth water.
By chance, mischance or perhaps by mistake, I found myself in their neighbourhood. By further chance it had rained hard during this unpredictable month of early summer and indeed it was raining still. Everything and everybody was soaked and bedraggled. Wherefore Mister Ernesto had not long abidden in his sodden garden before he began to feel colder than he could have ever wished to feel. "Did I move to this grotty little village in the south of France for this?" He grumbled, then looking to recruit himself speedily, he decided to endure it with patience. Presently, the lady said to her husband, "Let us eat a little pickled cabbage and some nice meat encumbered gherkin sandwiches, then see what yonder fellow, of whom thou art waxed so jealous doth and hear what he shall answer to the big foot maid, whom I have sent to parley with him. But do take care, Ernesto my dear; his speech and manner will savour strongly of beer and disappointment."
Accordingly, they betook themselves of dill greenery and found the yonder fellow to be none other than friend and vulgar villager, the distinguished and smart arsed Swiss botanist. Rodney Skirvishely his very self.
"Hillo, neighbours!" says he.
They went on to examine me from head to foot. Off duty, I wore on top a Miner's bonnet, my face all black with smoke and grease from unsuccessful moped repair and a filthy Phallic saucisson sec tied provocatively to my belt, a nourishing snack for all occasions. My shirt more frayed than my famous shabby and ripped moleskin jumper itself, my old faggot footwear and a store of other things all foreign to a man of good breeding and manners, yet of all these the most notable to her thinking were my jeans, the backside whereof came halfway down the buttocks, which Steve had reminded me was the proper way to dress if I had a mind to chasing skirt. Which is precisely what I had.
Ernesto, in the last stages of enthusiasm, clapping his hands and still more actively stamping his feet, gave me a cursory but determined glance, and immediately putting up his hands like a tin can to his mouth, so as to be more audible, looked up as if to take aim with an introductory shot.
"That note was a love-letter of that there can be no mistake!" He bawled at me in fury. "It was written on United Office scented paper and folded up so as to be so treacherously small that it might be slipped into a lady's private parts. My lady, as it happens."
I gave no answer, no denial. Something exactly like a finger and a thumb nipped my nose and sweet Marlene began to laugh but would not so much as look at me and I turned and sadly walked away.
The even more unhappy Ernesto, cursing both the hailstorm and his lady's stupidity in planning a party without consulting either himself or the weather forecast. Nobody in these parts would even consider leaving their comfortable home if it was in the least bit raining. Being much despited against his wife, he resolved in himself amongst many and various things to find a reliable means of rebellion. "I shall take my instructions with good grace", he repeated to himself many times, "but you must depend on me to set up a cat amongst those pigeons. I shall take full charge of the catering and drinks, heaven help them."
On the morning of the next day Grabsia, the maid with a big foot, who had been well lessoned by the lady, appearing from her quarters by way of a tiny little stable door and feigning to have compassion for her masters said, "Bad luck may bring yon Rodney who came hither yestereve! He hath kept us up all night with storms and hath caused us great wetness; but knowest thou what? Bear it with patience, for that which could not be to-night shall be another time.
At last, after much long tarriance, the sky suddenly cleared, a mighty wind dissolved all trace of cloud and the sun once more beamed hotly all around.
"Delight is only given to ladies who are brave enough to stoop to pick it up." Marlene explained. "All this skiing, dressmaking and cookery is one thing, or perhaps three, but this is the first time in my life that such an idea has taken such a clear and solid shape dear Ernesto. I can see clear as daylight that not a single person living in this mad town has had the effrontery to go straight for it all and throw a party to which only English speakers shall be invited! I so want to have a party, I was only missing the dare devil in me and if I don't do it then somebody else will. Oh Ernesto can't you see that? Well I really don't care two pfennigs if you can't!"
Ernesto strode past her oblivious, gasping and clearing his throat as though he had just been carrying a huge load of wood. He said good-evening to his wife in a singsong, elderly voice, then floated upstairs towards his bed; his bed lay neat and untouched and he sank helplessly on it with his face in the pillows. Every so often Marlene perceived a hollow and prolonged cough. Dear Ernesto had transformed from a ferocious pooko to a lamb, timid and meek as a damaged mouse before a cat. He began cautiously, softly, feeling his way, "you'll be alarmed in a minute, you silly old fool," he murmured to himself as he crawled right under the bed so as to lie more comfortably there. What was his amazement when with his hand he felt an object which, to his intense uneasiness, stirred and in its turn seized his hand. Under the bed there was Chirp! The ubiquitous gardening man.
"My dear sir...."
"Then don't pinch me so, or I shall scream."
"All right, scream away, try it on."
"Be so kind, sir ... allow me to ask
The gentleman in white so addressed,
started and looked with some alarm at the working gentleman
who offered tax relief to the wealthier classes who had
accosted him so abruptly at eight o'clock of the evening .
They seek him here, they seek him there, but one does not
expect to find the blighter under your very own bleedin'
bed! Ernesto removed himself from his bedroom forthwith,
armed himself with the most obvious weapon, the leafblower,
and descended the staircase as noiselessly as possible.
The author of his uneasiness stood by a further door talking to a certain Mister Didier Belbake, who audaciously passed himself off as a gardener and reeked strongly of garlic and red wine; with his ruggedly handsome air and colourful curly hair, dressed in nothing but shorts and a heavy leathery apron he bore a rather rumpled appearance, and much he complained of the dinner she had served him, "a hunk of black bread and a slice of rough sausage is not a proper dinner" he insisted, "and this pint of champagne is dry and bitter stuff, not at all like the Widow Clicquots of the old days."
WHEREIN IS RELATED WHAT BEFELL RODNEY SKIRVISHELY AT THE HOUSE OF HIS LADY MARLENE SKUM BOLLAR
I was more than a little surprised to
receive an invitation to this great event at 'Lekkerland'.
Her invitations had been hurried; those that could not
be reached by telephone, E-mail or text had to be sought out
from their respective holes. First to Ludo's: she poked her
pretty head timidly through the front door. "Rodney, Doctor
Quinn, she hailed us from without the riverside terrace:
"tomorrow is our party," she said with a laugh. "I wanted to
surprise you, because you two always look so miserable, I
just had to tell you at once. I was going to send you an
invitation all on nice squared paper. That's the regular
thing, but it all happened so suddenly."
She said that I may bring a servant with
me, or a friend just to see the expression on my face, but I
did not venture, and told her. "I know none of your
parishoners, not one, male or female whom I may like to
invite." I hesitated, reflected, and then said: "No, no
Marlene, I do not know anybody!"
Then on to Borello's she went. "Brice Lashley and Harvin, Sir Peter and Pippa Alesto-Pepperoni, Anne and James (pronounced yamess, trans.) Florabest! Tomorrow is our party, please please come," (she said with a laugh.)
I was quite a little more surprised when I actually did turn up at the front door, nearly on time, nearly sober and rather cleverly disguised. Long live the mustache! We sat in Ernesto's huge yellow and royal-blue dining-room overlooking the town, the round table was laid for a score of guests to say the very least. Forty, no less, not counting ladies.
On July 15, twenty-twelvish, about six of the afternoon, the privileged observer who chanced to be present at such a festival of frugality would by now have seen a most charming and instructive sight; a middling upper class German of undoubted Royal descent strutting in full plumage. I reflected with pleasure that they really did have such a nice house in an excellent shady position, no children, and visibly no money troubles. There I was at the table that gorgeous summer evening. Half-past six! Oh by bollocks, what an hour! It will be like a children's' party or listening to Taylor Swift. No gentleman dines before eight, or even nine in the summer. And all this without Steve. A party without Steve is like a dog without a lead, a bowl without a spoon, a fish without the chips and snow with honey bees. Can someone help me..... please? (His hair you see, had become such a hindrance and he had chosen once more to stay at home. At least that is what he told me.)
I sat reluctantly at the table that evening, and I am bound to admit some curious things happened. I have often felt vaguely before that I have many enemies when in polite company and many foes among the uncouth. No doubt that is because I always end up horribly drunk in any company but my own. Drinking alone, one just becomes pleasantly drunk. Imagine my horror to see many unmistakable signs of enmity, I was certain that I really had enemies at the table, it was impossible to doubt of it.
"Ernesto" says I warily , "There is a circumstance which I do not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to this table, it would be an unpleasant thing, for both of us."
"You may depend upon us not mentioning it Melvin my dear." Spoke the enchanting Marlene, on Ernesto's behalf.
"I should like to hear what sort of water you're in." Ernesto spoke for himself. "I suppose you're in debt?" Dear Ernesto was a fool and a cuckold, yet so well versed in irony, and everything that evening seemed to him ironical. Like a lark's tongue in aspic.
An hour or so passed by. I was feeling dull and drank steadily from the big beakers poured out for me. Ernesto suddenly took to his piano and a whorl of discordant Klavierstücke and meek foot tapping swept through the house and mixed badly with the noisy chatterers. I admit to making a few small errors here and there, because I was, as always on dodgy ground and had no idea how to answer their questions: 'where do you come from Mister Melvin, what do you do for a living?' That kind of question. For many difficult moments I could barely speak at all. When my speech came again, I said unthinkingly: “how dare you, sir? You bastard!" The slightest little incivility addressed either to me or not, would leave me even more lost for words. Every now an then I spoke incoherently, which bothered and amused me at the same time. I looked around the dozens of guests and there were as many sights to see. The dinner was going to be exceedingly poor, that we all knew for certain and it was of no surprise to me that so many of the invited ones were already a little tipsy.
I had the unexpected good fortune to find Sir Peter and Lady Pippa at my side who had majestically arrived on a tandem, both smelling strongly of WD40. In one fell swoop they redefined in a less ribald way my idea of the beast with two backs. Then staunchly at my side Doctor Quinn, a giver of great and comforting conversation.
Among the more middle aged crap faced generation, there was the small, bull-like James in pallid contrast to his wife Anne, then the strenuous starred and striped Mcennedys. In their implacable obstinacy, they had actually brought with them an oversize jar of sweet and crunchy peanut butter, with long-handled spoons, just in case. Then their mate, the grave and foppishly determined Harvin, a fruitcake. We had all been issued with paper hats to determine our status, but this Harvin chap, lover of Lashley, sported a real life bollar hat which had obviously been worn as a rich and most amusing joke. He himself was quite obviously a connoisseur of such. "They call me the night tripper" he said, And this mot, the 'Night Tripper,' was bandied from mouth to mouth, 'till it became the favourite mode of alluding to Harvin.
Ernesto's round speckled face and bald pate positively shone; glistened in a most unnatural way, as if he were a photograph and made of cardboard, as if he didn't exist in the flesh at all and was just a glossy millstone round Marlene's lovely neck, a clean and smug reminder of her own shortcomings. "I am not a rich man." He said with great delicacy, "I am a very rich man and I would willingly hand over ten Marks to know who sent me that insulting postcard last year. From Birmingham!"
I happen to remember just one detail of
that evening. I stood talking to a young lady, a fair-haired
girl; and I said something or told some story that made her
laugh. She was from St Albans, or at least she pretended so,
for she claimed never once in her life had she heard talk
about Gnidrolog or The Pork Dukes, which positively
Ernesto, alert as Scaramouch, was his wife's warden, her sole provider and nightwatchman, my rival. But this shiny man just sitting there with a one-dimensional empty, gleaming and aggravating smile, did nothing to reassure me. He was facetious and unreal, an unprepossessing and ghostly guest at his own party, which they had finally agreed should be called an 'at home'.
By eight 'o clock most of the guests were behaving with a reckless and sinister determination, shouting and talking at the top of their voices, bawling out toasts before the time and pelting both ladies and gentlemen with great lumps of bread or potatoes. All the evening I had a bitter feeling that I should not have come to this party. My coming was hardly noticed at all, they were all so occupied with one another and Marlene hardly made me welcome. I began drinking a little harder because I knew I was unwelcome; and yet I did not go away.
The one repulsive personage in his habitual greasy shirt who I had half expected and half wanted to be present this night had seemingly not been invited. Poor Ralph. By this time he would surely have fallen off his chair shortly before he sat down, to let me shine in an altogether different light. There was however another merry Hubert to the rescue, drunk as a confounded lord and making desperate efforts to stand on the table in order to take a photograph two. Only the brave Ernesto who seized him by the seat of his pants, moderated old Crivit's overbearing ardour.
The supper was a pell-mell affair. There were no appetizers due to the disgraceful price of peanuts and no hors d'oeuvres, which Ernesto considered to be but measly and dreadfully pretentious things. Served instead was grisly meat in a fetid sauce with bread, dumplings and potatoes and more potatoes. The Kauflands had never given a dinner without providing a good old fashioned mutton stew. There is something in its string like solidness that makes it suitable to people of a certain position, it is nourishing and tasty; the sort of thing a man remembers eating. A man would also not readily forget the stapled receipt he received hard on the shoulder from one of the waiters, one of the Aggoun brothers. A receipt of due deliverance signed by one of the boys and counter-signed by dear Ernesto himself on the reception of the dish.
Among the drinks were beer, drawn directly from the cool of the cellar, a beer fountain if ever there was one and a mountain of sherry imported stealthily from Südafrika. The single bottle of celebratory champagne was standing so close by me and a convenient pint glass that I was obliged to pour the whole thing out for myself. The other guests had to drink the toasts in unseasonal wine or cooking ale. The table was made up of several tables put together, among them even a card-table. They were covered with many tablecloths, mostly of of paper or brightly coloured Provençal cloth with matching serviette rings stuffed with baby wipes.
The gentlemen sat alternately with the ladies. Marlene of course would not sit down to the table; she bustled about and supervised. But another sinister female figure, who had not shown herself till then, appeared on the scene, wearing a greenish silk dress, with a very high cap on her head and a dirty bandage round her face for toothache or mosquitoes. She was not at all clear which. It appeared that she had spent some considerable time in Montana and one of her former husbands had been a dental floss tycoon. This was Ralph's sister Mari-bel, who had at last consented to emerge from a back room for supper. She had refused to appear till then owing to her implacable sadness about baby big brother's mysterious disappearance, to which we may or may not refer later. This lady looked spitefully, even sarcastically at me and evidently did not wish to be presented to me. This woman appeared suspicious in the extreme. To my mind she was not at all consistent with that which is considered "normal".
Several other persons were suspicious too and inspired involuntary apprehension and disturbance in me. It was perfectly clear that they were in some sort of plot together against me. A gentleman with a long grey beard, some sort of free artist, who went by the name of Milton Gates was particularly sinister; he even looked at me several times, and then turning to his neighbour, whispered something. Another person present, Ben Bracken, was unmistakably Scottish and dreadfully drunk, but yet, from certain signs, was still to be regarded with suspicion. Madame Florabest herself, gave reason to my unpleasant expectations. There was of course very little to talk about, so let it be done but to hear the lady talk, which she did without any intermission till coffee came in, delivering her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not used to have her judgment controverted. I tried to interrupt her on several occasions; once asking her, "for ten points, who was the bass player in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?" She looked at me with derision and said 'Calvin "Fuzzy' Samuels', before continuing her discourse on photovoltaic energy and fracking rocks on the road.
A subdued, almost morose inattention to each other lasted till well into the secondary beer course with remarks such as, "What a dreadfully long winter it has been?" "For sure but I suppose she doesn't come down in the mornings?"-"What do you think of the sherry, Melvin? "
" Butter my arse." I replied. "This
ain't no time for foolery, but you are a are pork-packer, I
"I hope so, Melvin for it is said that pork-packing is the most lucrative profession in Germany.
"Just one moment," he said. "It has occurred to me while sitting here talking to a Britisher of such great repute that perhaps you might like to regard my ant farm, it is quite the novelty, a farm in the shape of a book." And he took it out. "I am sorry that I did not think of it before. Just look through it, if you please; I should be only too delighted. You must all see it!" He cried at last, tired of his one-man audience. Guests! gather round and be amazed. In this book you will find all the good men and women in my employ, they are all represented herein and I make them work so hard day and night. I insist that the chubby little rotters carry crumbs of bread blindfold up and down the aisles, just before I decide to squash them! Sometimes I lull them into making a cosy nest, before I let rip with the fire hose, other times I just use powder to lure and kill. Then we can start all over again......The surviving males can shoot up the queen and a new colony will be born."
Ernesto as you may see was not a likeable man and definitely not to be depended on, but the fool in the bollar hat was blazing with hatred, he lolled about on his rickety chair and looked haughty and conceited, he snorted so aggressively and although the rest of the guests took absolutely no notice of the impudent cretin, I had taken a great dislike to him. When a large piece of baguette aimed in my direction fell near I was ready to stake my life that it had been thrown by no other than the old queen in question. I rapped the table sharply, and said: “Go away, you are disagreeable. Go home Harvin!” Why was I never told that there would be nights like this?
All this commotion, of course, had a pitiable effect on me. I spoke loudly, very loudly, and I did so on purpose. And I went on speaking loudly; "An easy distance, do you call it? A round trip to Lidl is nearly fifty fucking miles."
Another of my observations was particularly distasteful. Old Ernesto became aware that he was beginning to articulate indistinctly and with difficulty, that he was longing to say a great deal, but his French tongue refused to obey him. He was trying to speak French, because he thought it well mannered to do so. When in Rome? He was in France after all, but most of his guests were in fact British. There is even a word for this kind of performance in Newspeak: using French words intentionally or on purpose in the company of English speakers, with or without the use of air commas is called a facecrime and quite rightly n'est ce que pas? Then le pauvre Ernesto suddenly seemed to forget himself, and worst of all he occasionally burst into a loud guffaw of laughter, à propos of bugger all. He seemed to have found a rabbit's nest and was laughing himself stupid at the eggs!
This inclination speedily passed off after a glass of sherry which he had not meant to drink, though he had poured it out and suddenly drunk it quite by accident. After one more glass he felt at once almost inclined to lament. He felt that he was sinking into a most peculiar state of sentimentality; he began to be again filled with love, he loved every one, even Marlene, Then suddenly with no warning he wanted to turn everyone out of the castle and damned well set fire to it.
And then we danced. Marlene and I performed a lively pink polka dot Abbaration, those were her words, not mine; what a pair of dancing queens we were and how we got that party started. There can be no other meaning to the world beyond what meaning we give it, but such glorious music. Epic shit.
Then Ernesto suddenly longed to embrace everybody. If he had wished to hug me, I for my part had a strong wish to prevent him. But no, he simply wanted to forget everything and to be reconciled. He needed more than anything to tell them everything openly, to boldly say how wonderfully happy and contented he was with his lot. Then tell them what a good, nice man he was, with such wonderful talents, what services he had done for his country by working hard, capping prices and not paying taxes. How good he was at providing. But above all, how progressive he was, how humanely ready he was to be indulgent to all, to the very lowest; and finally to tell them frankly all the motives that had impelled him to agree to this lovely dinner, to drink two bottles of sherry and to have finally found what it was that made him so very very happy. Two bottles of sherry. (Unavailable in this country. trans.)
Ernesto stood before us crushed, crestfallen, revoltingly confused, and I believe he smiled as he did his utmost to wrap himself in the skirts of his wife's ragged padded evening gown, almost exactly as I had imagined the scene not long before, during one of his fits of depression. After standing over him for a couple of minutes Marlene went away, but what made it worse was that she too, was overwhelmed with confusion, more so, in fact, than I should have expected. Ernesto had been right about that billet-doux, I will spare you the details, but me and Mrs. Kaufland have definitely got a thing going on. When Ernesto asked me the question, good and proper and in a manly sensible way; "have you been digging my potatoes Melvin?" I was immensely pleased to conclude that subject by saying: " Yes."
"My husband is going to Sweden in a few days," she said." To do a deal and mix up some ingredients and I am sure he has a shed load of refundable deposit beer bottles to take with him. I am going to have another party Rodney. Oh, we haven't finished the wine: there is ever so much left. We simply must have another party, a new party and later on we shall have a ball in the big room." We will have two hampers of turkey balls and cole slaw; the boys from the vicarage can bring curd biscuits and Ernesto has already given me pocket money.....and you won't look at Mari-bel again, will you? My darling, I mean. Please, you won't, will you? Or I shall not ask her at all."
And with no more words she threw herself passionately about my neck, and looked at me, gazing into my face and breathing heavily. Her glance was sheer blackness.
I got up abruptly, and, in my confusion, could only say:
"So your husband is going to Finland?
"What did you get up like that for, so quickly?" she asked softly. "Who are you and what have you done with Rodney?"
"It is late, Marlene my dearest, the hour is about four and it's not just the drinks, drunkenness or the ultimate darkness of the night that has passed. The Purple Jasmin are closing again and I have a friend who will surely be waiting patiently and unknowingly for me at home. The sun is getting up; and it will soon be day. It has been a lovely evening, and now it is clearly over; thank-you ever so much. I am grateful to you, for everything! Steve however is my best and most original of friends and he will be there waiting silently for a full and clear explanation of this night and all that has passed and I am in great need of debriefing; goodnight Marlene, goodnight Marlene, I'll see you in my dreams."
OF WHAT TOOK PLACE BETWEEN SKIRVE AND HIS
FRIEND VINCENT, THE HEINEKEN FIEND ON A HUNTING EXPEDITION;
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CHAPTERS IN THE WHOLE HISTORY.
Very early one Sunday
morning towards the end of July. I remember it well, the pig
hunting season had not yet opened of course, yet for some,
the pre-season began that day in dead earnest. The somewhat
venerable Monsieur Vincent de La Verne, the Heineken fiend,
had as always, got a head start on rules and
respectability. According to custom, he had invited
Maurin, the redoubtable huntsman of Saint-Trop (and our
mutual best mate Steve) into his own particular neck of the
woods, for a spot of pig sticking. Steve had kindly invited
myself and I in turn had brought along the good and wise
Didier, the egg man. We met up as ever at Bleary-eyed Ludo's
for coffee and set off rather less than merrily in Vincent's
nifty little brushed aluminum pick up truck. Two in the
front, two on the back. Within a very few minutes we had
parked, in a manner of speaking, and all the party then
found themselves marching on foot, following the course of a
stream between the hills that led gradually upwards towards
the summit of Mount Sabatier, which stood out rugged with
broken points of hard white rock.
We arrive atop the hill, some more breathless than others and Vincent all the while playing the good-natured Les Couillons dufus, accent and all. He was lavish in the iteration of his own skills as a huntsman and to a lesser extent a raconteur. "Duh!"
We listened eagerly to his slightest word. finally He began unashamedly proclaiming his prowess with a gun.
"I have not a match in all the Americas," he declared roundly, "nor among the Arabs either, whether for my practical knowledge of the hunt, for my endurance of fatigue or for fancy shooting. Would you like une petite demonstration? Watch me hug brown Bess!" (Black Betty, bam a lam, trans.)
He cocked his gun. "Now nobody move!"
He seized his weapon by the barrel, swung it round at the length of his arm, and tossed it to a great height and stood waiting to catch it as it fell. . . .At that moment Maurin threw up a stone into the air, which rose as the rifle descended. The gun fell horizontally across Vincent's arm, and he fired. Steve picked up the stone, to find it all like a polo mint, the stone with a hole. Blimey!
"My turn now!" cried Maurin; not to be outdone he proceeded to execute the same miraculous feat of skill. Only, while the gun was turning in the air, he bent over double and let rip a casual yet loud and oddly melodious fart:
"There," he said, "you see what we are a pair of overbearing show-offs we are, before you is the beast with two butts. Now for the wild-boars!
"My friends," said Vincent "you are about to witness a quite brazen provocation of that bastard Freemon and the newly arrived teenage re-enforcement Gendarmes, it will take your breath away. You, Rodney! Be on guard, be alert, eyes peeled for those beastly boys in blue, and you Didier, idem. What sort of name is Didier anyway? What do they know about hunting, what do they know about anything? What do they know about getting up out of bed before breakfast? A whole load of nothing, that's what, but they do know the law, the Code Civile. By gum, they can even look the thing up on Monsieur Internet: thou shalt not shoot a pig avant Assumption Day. Full stop. Were we never to eat our neighbours' cherries, there's many folks would not know the taste of the fruit at all!"
Not only was I given the responsibility of keeping an eye out for the Staff Sergeant and his boys. I was also given a huge hunting horn and whistle, not to mention a very fine blue cap, bearing the image of a cute little makin' bacon porker and the words Justin Bridou Mon Jambon Star!" Do be vigilant Rodney my man," Vincent repeated. "If you want to spend the next six months at liberty."
Half an hour later we were still skulking about, smoking Fortuna lights, (pale blue packet with a hint of turquoise, trans.) chatting incoherently, half asleep, when suddenly I heard the unmistakable whir of a blue Kangoo on the road below, a whiff if you like. Then before I could blow my horn or whistle my whistle, it was too late! The waving brushwood cracked and crackled "Once you hold a bird in the hand, best pluck it, sir!" Announced Vincent loudly and with a sort of glee. The dense undergrowth rustled so intensely as if it were bursting into flame everywhere at once! In a moment I felt myself pushed away and roughly set upright again. I saw the briars stir in front of me. Yes, it was they, the wild-boars, the free untamed denizens of the forest! They went plunging over the bush like porpoises out of water, bounding clumsily along in great curving leaps, running hard and breaking down the broom and heather under their ponderous weight, the boughs of which kept snapping with a loud report. A shot, two shots rang out. I saw a boar fall, and lie there, dead; another was wounded, but after pausing and slackening speed an instant, it slumped and dropped dead in its turn.
A loud shout from Vincent, "one apiece Maurin my boy, putain de bordel be merde!" Stout Master Vincent was indeed a philosopher, that is what I have come to admire in him. It is that magic power, which is a gift of his birthright, of putting instantly into action a mere casual expletive, making it at one and the same time heroic and burlesque, This was a mark of genius!
My own cries echoed through the valleys and on the heights. "Pootanna de bordello do merda!!"
"A la barro! a la barro!" Vincent yelled ignoring me, "cut me four boughs to carry these mighty boars back to my lovely Toyota."
As luck would have it, Maurin produced a miniature chainsaw from his leather musette and began at once to lop and branch some green oaks from a nearby clump. There were two dead pigs and five live persons to complete this difficult, strenuous operation, but having done so we covered them with sprigs of rosemary and branches of myrtle, and bore them away as the spoils of victory. Didier and myself straddled comfortably upon the dead beasts in the back of the truck. We headed towards a large three-sided shelter which had been pitched in the middle of a shady roadside wood, where we found the tables had already been laid in such grand and sumptuous style that it was easy to see the lowly rank and misguidance of he who had provided it. Paper tablecloths and napkins, ugh!
Vincent's game-bag was hung up on a low branch of an olive; he unhitched it and took out bread, cheese, an onion, and a supply of salt in a piece of reed plugged with a cork. Then he laid his fiasco, a flat, wicker-covered bottle of Plymouth gin beside him, retrieved a large plastic bottle of Indian tonic water from the gas (butane, trans.) powered frigo and set to work to enjoy his whack.
History records that I did not drink one drop before seven that morning. We had all had brought a little snack with us though, I of course had the dangling sausage thing, Maurin as ever carried a good week's supply in that bag of his and Steve had loaded himself with an ample store of pies and potted meats Red Bulls, vitamins and lots of other little pills to supplement these supplies. Didier, heeding my advice had brought his own; hard-boiled.
"Are there are four of us now?" Steve
asked me curiously, casting his eyes in the Vincent
"No Steve, there are not."
Vincent was a worthy man, but fell just short of being an Idiot Bastard son. I had been told that he had retired from this busy world in order to live in peace and form his mind to virtue, which quite frankly is just not good enough. He was always pleased to provide this little open box for the reception of strangers. but he just lacked the je ne sais quoi. In fact I do, he couldn't speak a word of English, poor chap.
He quite startled me however when all of a
sudden he turned to me and asked. "Rodney my friend, tell
me. What is the thing we receive without being ever thankful
for; that which we enjoy, without really knowing how we came
by it; that which we give away to others, bits of it anyway
without knowing if they will eat it or not? I ask this
without ostentation and without requiring an answer, for I
will give it to you. It is La bête noire Sir, the 'og!"
At this point I deemed that the narrator could do with another quick word "You're likely right but I'm bad at your fancy French words, so maybe we should just go after deer instead? A deer is no sort of a beast at all, it is nothing but a downright selfish member of society, as we all are!"
Well spoke! said Vincent, and as if the recent dramatic price increase meant nothing to him, he tossed away a fat piece of onion skin, picked up a hunch of red cheese on his knife, and said no more.
"I wonder what Freemon is thinking now?" observed Steve. "I'll bet he's thinkin', right now, that we've gone back home empty handed."
"There is no other way," explained Vincent. Officer Freemon, my friend, takes his food directly from the palm of my hand."
"Putain!" cried the egg man, springing straight up in the air like a rubber ball. "Holy smoke! Are you quite serious about that?"
"Yes crazy man I am," grunted Vincent. "But they could have followed us here," insisted Didier.
"My ass!" said Steve, "which, not to mention him by that name, I am accustomed to call Dapple."
"Hmm" he remarked in rather a strange and off-hand way, "an ass with a name?" We may actually gain time by pretending that you never said that at all, poil de carotte! (Carrot top, trans)
By this time I was quite seriously beginning to wonder what the hell was going on here; are we all to be arrested? I cannot be arrested, not now. If ever a policeman should get hold of me he would want identity papers, passports and electricity bills and probably run me through Interpol and then what? No I must steer well clear of the long arm of the law. put my head in the sand if absolutely necessary. But instead I just sat there trembling, hoping that all this would just go away. Then Maurin pulled out his thick, black-nailed, earth-stained finger and softly patted my twitching lips.
"Rodney! Wake up! Are you expecting certified mail from a forensics lab?.....Just kidding, but there is a man that wants a word with you, something about Opewation Yew-twee."
"Rodney whatever is the matter?" Gasped Steve.
"The matter is that I have grasped at last that there is not, has not been and never would be no policemen, that you are an underhand, deceptive little pillock and that brief sighting that I made was just my fancy!" (Yet my vision of them had been so clear and distinct. Visions? hallucinations Rodney, Really!)
"My friends!" ejaculated fat Vincent, "as you know, I am familiar with this bastard Gendarme man," and added, provokingly that he would like to give him a great punch that would leave his fist sunk in his skull, but the fact of the matter is, he informed us with great mirth, hog hunting is now allowed all year round. Positively encouraged in fact, the beast is black and a menace to the farming folk."
"By all that's good," exclaimed Steve at this, "I would just as soon give myself three stabs in the calf with a toothpick than try to reason with Rodney right now."
All this was not a dream, but actual, indubitable fact. Should I be telling the story if it were not? But to continue, it's all rather stupid really; knowing of my strong dislike and fear of the forces of order, especially those in uniform, Steve and Maurin had set me up to thinking we were pulling off a daring and dangerous escapade right under the mad men's noses. Oh! How they had enjoyed my squirming.
It was late, about eight o'clock, before we finally took to breakfast proper. What we did and what we said and what I saw and heard that day will be told in the forthcoming book of this series entitled, 'Breakfast at Vincent's' or 'Boy Scouts in the danger Zone'; or 'Plot Against Uncle Rod', but I swear to you that if any one of them had squeezed my nose as hard as they liked, it would not have hurt me.
"No? How Can it be? Is there a land where men have black faces?" Vincent was incensed in response to one of my more innocent remarks. These words were the last I can remember, but most probably not the worst. Bottle followed bottle with monotonous regularity. If all the Heineken bottles in all the world were lined up, they could not have been made into a bigger pile than the one we made that morning, it was truly awesome. By midday we lay like corpses, spread out contorted, on the "dining-room" floor, lit up at first by the yellow gleams from old fashioned headlamps, then comforted by the deep shade of sweet chestnuts. There we remained for several hours, in fact until the early evening when Birdy Namnam rigid and mute, out on her daily stroll contemplated us at her feet. I saw her heavy outline through hungover eyes, propped between two sturdy sticks. She appeared overwhelmed, but quite unable to sufficiently feast her eyes on such a disgraceful, scandalous sight.
WHEREIN IS RELATED THE PLEASANT STORY OF AN ICE-CREAM BARON, TOGETHER WITH OTHER ODD THINGS THAT CAME TO PASS IN A DINER.July had been rude to me as you may have noticed; the very paradigm of man's inhumanity to Rodney, but I knew that August would be a wicked month even before it began. August is vicious and unpredictably violent. It is also the longest month, an interminable, statistically proven double month.
My unlikely adventures on and around The Turpitude, then holed up outrageously in a madhouse or at home with the Germans and the most extraordinary of hunting parties are now distant, vague yet oddly cherished memories; if folks like Lister and Vincent, Lozzi, the Florabests, Actimel, Rupert and that shithead Ralph didn't exist, you'd have to blasted well invent them, arf, arf. It may surprise you to know that I didn't. Just messed with (some of) the names a bit.
Suffering and happiness broke over me in waves. One such moment came over me a few weeks after my first public exhibition of dancing: I went into my room at night and to my indescribable astonishment, dismay, horror and let it be said, enchantment , I found the lovely Marlene lying naked in my bed. Of all the surprises that life had prepared for me this was perhaps the most unusual. For I had not foreseen this. It was not my fortune to be Marlene's only lover, nor even her favourite one. I was one of many. Often she had no time for me, usually just once a week for half an hour at midday, never after dark. She never took money of course but she was always chuffed with the presents.
Steve's unhappiness continued through all those long and weary days that followed the Kaufland's belligerent little at-home. During that time he kept his good self mostly to himself and went nowhere in particular, save a little hog hunting. He ritually shampooed his hair every day, to no avail. I alone new the fatal secret, but I promised solemnly never to tell, and it may be stated here and now that I kept my word. In the end Steve said decidedly:
"It's no use, Rodney. The dye is fast, my hair must be cut off; there is no other way. I can't go out anymore with it looking like this."
With a dismal sigh he went for the scissors.
"Please cut it off at once, Rodney, there is nothing more reasonable than having your hair cut off because it suddenly became a dreadful color is there? I'm going to weep all the time you're doing it, if that won't bother you. It seems such a tragic thing."
He wept then, but later on, when he went upstairs to look in my famous half glass, he was calm with despair. I had done my work thoroughly although the result was not becoming, to state the case as mildly as may be.
These unspeakably dry, hot and to my mind wholly unacceptable August days dragged on, but were nevertheless a great excuse for the respected elder sons of anarchy to pass their time in peaceful reflection and great thoughtfulness. In Steve's case, I suggested that a little self improvement might not go amiss. Toughen up that fragile oeuf shell mind of his.
“If an Englishmans home is his castle, An American’s is his hassle.”
resolved to take immediate remedial action. It sounded
much more like a half-baked and ridiculous fortune
cookie to me and I told him so.
destined to become a lily livered thicko in the department
of foliage control."
By further strange coincidence he claimed to have partially unravelled the famous Da Selbi Code (sic). He meant of course O’Nolan's De Selby Codex:
'a collection of some 2000 sheets of foolscap closely handwritten on both sides, the signal distinction of the manuscript being that no one word of the writing is legible.'
With this in mind, Steve had elected his estival domicile in a fallen and naturally hollowed out sweet chestnut stump. A hobbit hole in Maurin’s garden. Here he planned to sleep, smoke, drink and idle away the summer months. His cosy little chez-moi would serve too as an out sized ashtray, spittoon and, I have no doubt, a stinking pissoir.
Steve himself should really be credited with the brilliant invention of the folding and portable all-weather cigarette-rolling booth, as I know in his modesty he would dismiss this ingeniously designed contraption as just a flabby cardboard box with a big wide two-handed slit and a pair of eye holes. Cardboard indeed!
He was right though about remaining outdoors, mother nature shows her boldest beauty around these sumptuous green valleys and mountainsides; dense, unfathomed and wildly majestic! What is all this pride in second floor apartments with bags of charm or rickety houses with loads of ornaments supplied? Unpleasing, tasteless, ridiculous expense compared with mother's strange magnificence. Interiors seldom change and never without a coat of paint or a trip to IKEA. The outside is a forever changing conundrum, but however much you try to change it, with those excavators, chain-saws or boxes of matches, it will in the end revert to type, adapt to the seasons and the whims of creeping mother nature. Even if you sit and arse around the house all day, like a short-sighted gink.
Then at last it dawned on me, Steve had been looking at me funny, the sun was up. Tammy’s back!
"Go on say it Steve!"
"Tammys back Rodney."
Shit! It had been so long that I had easily managed to forget all about her, but now I was taunting him, what was stopping me from doing a little ce, pointing at him, prodding nastily and making him blush some more? That Tammy actually was back was the bad news, the really great news though, Steve told me with a lopsided grin, was that her delayed return had been due to completing a brand new and original comeback album of obscure Country and Western songs, in French! It had already gone platinum in Canada with a couple of singles riding high in the charts “Bras de scratch, coeur en teflon” and “Billy m'a brisé le coeur chez Ikea et j'ai pleuré en route pour Decathlon.”
Why the hell hadn’t she done 'je me suis fait une épilation jambaire pour ceci?"' I moaned bitterly, maybe she had.
My own particular contribution to the toils of human endeavour was unsurprisingly in total opposition to Steve’s al fresco experiment. I decided to toy with one of Blaise Pascal’s more unusual and original Pansies.
“All mens' miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
If he had
been born three hundred or so years later, I’m sure he
would have added, ”sans la télévision, la radio, la
presse ou putain de Monsieur Internet.”
On the condition, however, that the man in question had a big pile of books and an adequate supply of chilled pilsener and sour mash, I would have to agree with him that people these days really dont know Jack shit about metaphysics.
My own house is right here, in my head, unless of course it rains or overheats, so this summer I chose the coolness of the cellar below my sturdy, proper little rolling-bothie of a home in this tiny burg. Tiny and horrible little burg that brings back daily those awful memories of Streslau. Hideous Streslau where I actually lived and worked for several years back in the dreadful nineties. Stranger than fiction, odder than truth, this little town is partly old and partly new; spacious modern boulevards and residential quarters surround and embrace the narrow, tortuous and picturesque streets of the original town. In the outer circle the upper classes live; in the inner, the shops, bars cafés and restaurants are situated; and behind their prosperous fronts the hidden, populous but wretched lanes and alleys filled with a poverty stricken, turbulent and (in large measure) criminal class, of which I myself am a leading light.
When I am not out and about dressed like a tramp begging, angling for Farthings in a cheap black hoody and up to no good, or worse, thinly disguised as a leper to scare the crap out of Germans, I do in fact stay at home, quietly in a room. I sit silently waiting for the intermittent furtive taps on the living room shutters. Three short raps and I am up on my feet, ready to serve, Staffordshire style across the four foot thick stone window sill that separates me from my clients, for there, outside, pinned to the shutter in my own neat and attractive handwriting, a little notice which reads: “Nuckminster Listerene” (the name had stuck) “Connoisseur quality, competitive pricing. Knock three times.”
One day as I sat in a sulken reverie, waiting for trade, I was startled and almost overcome to be awoken, not by gentle tap tap tapping, but a single heavy knock on the front door. In all the years that I have lived here, this I can assure you has never happened before, A first! I leapt up to answer it.
Question: who would make the – let’s just call it arduous – journey from Albuquerque New Mexico to Les Couillons France just for a 24 hour stopover? Answer: the bleary eyed moustachioed dude in a Stetson that I found on my doorstep late that afternoon. Why would he do this you may well ask? As we stood, staring at each other in disbelief, I had absolutely no idea. One night in Bangkok? Just maybe, at a pinch, but here?
I’m not sure if he actually did say “howdy” as he offered me his hand and said in a gruff voice “Raylan”, which I took to be his name, but I did invite him in and proffered a cold beer, which he politely refused as it didn’t feature on his list of refreshing summer drinks. Home-made lemonade on the other hand would be more than welcome. I sat him down with a bottle of Pschitt! He quenched his thirst without comment. It was hard to squeeze much conversation out of this guy without beer, but I did learn that he was Ray Lannigan, Ice-cream Baron of Wagon Wheel NM and that he was here because he smelled opportunity.
It turned out that my dear and so recently departed friend Phyllis, had in her finite wisdom written a small piece in The Curry County Tribune about her joyous holiday, also posted a couple of summer fun pictures on-line and won first prize for her snap of the open fire pizza man at the gas station.
Ray explained that he had been planning to stay the night in The Expanded Backside, on Phyllis’s recommendation, but it was occupied, by Germans. Could he “flop the night with me?”
sure didn’t seem like a bundle of laughs, but how often
does Rodney, Duke of Yendor get to entertain visiting
I showed him and his little bag to the great guest room in the sky where he could rest, shower and change.
“Thanks but I’ll pass on the shower and changing bit.”
An hour or so later came the inevitable, the part that I always dread when visiting Americans are in town. Ray announced that he was so darned hungry he would even consider eating French cheese. I can’t remember how many times I have sworn that I will never set foot in a restaurant with an American again. Justified. He had been quite unable to stomach the unfamiliar offerings of Air France and had great difficulty with all matters of understanding since he set down in Paris some ten hours previously. How he got here at all with nothing but a scrap of paper with my name and address scribbled on it is more than a little worrying.
“OK Ray,” I said, perhaps a little too roughly, “but first I’m going to lay down a few ground rules about dining out in this country. First off: things usually start out with an aperitif or two, invariably Pastis with ice and a jug of water; we don’t drink mugs of milky coffee with our meals and beer is considered uncouth, just wine or water. Got it?”
He nodded strangely, I continued.
It is customary to use a knife and fork; with the knife in
the right hand, or even a fork and a crusty piece of bread
in the left hand. The meal will last several hours and of
course please try to remember that in Europe a waitress is
considered to be a regular member of the human race. Hands
off! If you pay for the meal, I will take care of the tip,
as I know from experience you will never, ever be able to
get your head around French tipping. Finally, the meal
will almost certainly finish with the smug and sweaty chef
offering us a glass of his special reserve fire-water,
reserved specially that is, for the clients he has ripped
off the most that evening, and that, my friend, is going
to be us. Still with me?”
He was, but maybe it was just the long journey and lack of food that made him look so jaundiced.
I wouldn’t normally be dumb enough to eat in a restaurant that I knew was up for sale, would you? The safest bet is to eat somewhere recently opened, still trying to please, bending over backwards is even better. They never put up for sale signs of course, but central scrutinizer that I am, I happen to know that The Procrastinating Provençal is on the market for a cool one and a half million dollars. What’s more, I had a plan. Happy in the knowledge that they would take any credit card Ray could throw at them, two dudes in Stetsons and faded Levis were out on the town.
It was immediately apparent that Ray considered the French national aperitif to be some kind of awful patent medicine, but he swigged it willingly and it had the same effect on him as on those that actually enjoy the stuff; instant-on loud and fervent chatter, borderline obnoxious. As he outlined his great plans for a string of Raylan’s ice-cream parlours, I noted with relief that our waitress – obviously hand-picked by the proprietor’s wife – was more like Winston Churchill in drag than anything he was likely to grope – but the night was young and I remained vigilant. Sheriff or not, my reputation in this town was already at rock bottom, but with Ray around it could always take a turn for the worse.
The meal itself went surprisingly well; we had meat and potatoes, puddings and zero vegetables, washed down with bottle after bottle of Château Bastidon Rosé wine that Ray was drinking as if it was Bud, no, not straight from the bottle stupid, I soon put a stop to that. After some slightly sobering strong black coffee, a greasy blob duly popped out of his kitchen brandishing an old fashioned looking bottle with a whole fat pear inside and came to our table with two tiny glasses. His trite and oft repeated speech fell on deaf ears, for Raylan was into yet another tear-jerking rendition of his favorite song, Lonesome Cowboy Bert – there’s the Zappa for those of you not expecting it – and only had eyes for the serving wench.
I had a feeling that it was a bit too late to explain that Dr.Phyllis MacFarlane, careers adviser at Clovis Community College and Socorro Miss Personality 1975 was entirely responsible for Raylan's rather pointless visit. She had noticed that Les Couillons had been dubbed the Capital des Maures, and could easily have been forgiven for assuming that the word 'Maures' was French for ice-cream. Cold cones in your face has only recently been knocked off the top spot of popular things to do, by looking for bullet holes. It was of course, far too late. I don’t think we were actually thrown out of the diner or even sang any more on the way home, kicked any cats or peed through anyone’s letterbox. My next recollection was Sunday morning.
He did say it this time, of that I’m sure; also that I've never seen a man so bright and so early on a Sunday. He had already been into town and bought fresh croissants and a local map; how much French did he learn last night? The coffee was percolating nicely and Ray was bubbling with excitement sticking pins into the map and sounding like he was playing solo Monopoly.
“Two hundred motels here, here and here. A proper gas station here with a Toyota dealership and a car wash. A fast-food outlet here, here and there. Jeez Rod, there are thousands of coneheads out there with nothing to eat but stinking ice-cream made with some kind of nut, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the last time I took a shower.”
He grinned for the first time since we’d met. He was gobbling pastries, slurping coffee looking at his watch and talking all at the same time, like a man who had left his helicopter running on the outskirts of town……?
“Look Rodney, you take care of the relocation incentives, tax breaks and recruitment subsidies – ship in some Chinks if you need to – as we agreed last night – and I’ll be back in a week, oh and you can tell grease-ball that since his place is over three hundred years old, its time for a freaking refit, one million cash, that’s my final offer.”
And he was gone… Pschitt!
Lesson learned, they’ll have to change the slogan “Les Couillons Capital des Maures” to something they might understand in Eddy or Grant County, Roxy and elsewhere; something like:
“Les Couillons, we’re growing, come join us.”
We are growing, just not what they’d think.
IN WHICH AN OLD AND ODORIFEROUS WOMAN
REVEALS A DARK AND CHILLING SECRET.
I had not
left Ernesto's place empty handed, no; not the silverware,
something much more valuable. I left with a manuscript, a
small part of Ernesto's secret diary stuffed comfortably
down those flimsy trousers of mine.
"Lekkerland: Jun 16. Here I sit under the tall green trees of my private gardens, beneath the deep blue shade of cedar needles, or leaves, upon my word I quite forget which. Just how much the internet has contaminated the calm and intellectual atmosphere of my study is beyond my understanding, just as those French radio programs that Marlene is so fond of break in as loudmouthed strangers and disturbers of my carefully tended garden of thoughtlessness, so too, from all sides there broke in new and dreaded impertinences into my life which had never been so sharply defined and so deeply resented. Time has passed and much has happened, little has changed.
The world has always demanded bargain prices and sacrifices from me and my suppliers and I gave them willingly and without question, but life is not all about logistics hard work and exploitation. All I ask now is a pleasant room where I can be content with eating and drinking, coffee and beer, bread, cheese and dry ship's biscuits. Hard as nails. Do I ask too much?
One day, rather bored with my own company and living the life with Marlene which had finally done my brain in, I decided to take a little divergence into the village below. Now there is an old lady, or would it be more correct to say a little old lady? There was this 'ere woman who lives on the very outskirts of this town, that's better! Elizabeth she said her name was. Elizabeth. We sat down on a bench, Elizabeth and I; she who had lived one hundred years in this village without once leaving its borders, she who pedaled her trike twice daily round every Mülleimer (trashcan, trans.) in town looking for goodies. Elizabeth! By gum! one of the richest and stinkiest women in town sat beside me and wanted to talk, or at least answer my questions. I wanted to move away from her, several metres at least.
In this month of June there was another odour, that of sweet crisp roses, sweeter than her unwashed linen that floated gracefully in the air; a hot sun glided its rays between the branches of London Planes and sprinkled us with erratic patches of light. Enough of that romantical stuff Ernesto old chap if you don't mind, will you please allow Lizzy to get on with the talking.
"Who is that striking fellow over yonder" I asked her pointing across the way to an elderly man in a fine straw hat sitting motionless in a very throne like deck chair surrounded on all sides by hunks of cork oak bark of all shapes and sizes. Just sitting there drinking red wine and whistling incessantly Lily the Pink. So we drink a drink a drink to...
"They call him Saint Nando," she told me "because his name is Fernand, and also, perhaps, because he is a good man, always jolly and a great lover of practical jokes, a tremendous eater, an experienced drinker and an all round a gay fellow, despite his ninety odd years of profligacy."
I saw a big pleasant man with a red face, large chest and stomach perched on two legs that seemed too slight for the bulk of his body.
mean Willy the Pimp Lizzie?"
Monsieur Ernesto, his name is Nando and he is a marine
biologist. All his real friends just call him 'Doh'.
"He is in truth a Malabar" Lizzie continued, "a man who after sixty years of marriage has the damned courage to come right out with it and say, under his breath: 'enough is enough! Fuck off beastly woman, leave me be! Please?'
quite alone with a quite horrible wife and has just one
man servant by the name of Grabsia, whose family I believe
you are quite familiar with but that is just tragic magic,
there are no coincidences. The three of them occupy a
grand and spacious apartment above his cork shop and vast
inner courtyard. He conducts his business affairs with
shrewd economy. He is careful of his own interests,
understands the business of raising chestnut and cherry
trees as well as the stripping of the cork oak. His two
sons and three daughters have married well, and reside in
the neighborhood of Marseilles and come to dine with their
parents once a year at Eastertime. His vigor of body is
famous in all the countryside. 'He is as strong as Saint
Fernand,' has become a kind of proverb."
"Tell me more about him Liz," I demanded.
"Oh Well. She went on happily, I have wasted many days wandering the streets of this village, staring at the masses of curiously pruned Plane trees, watching carefully clad people walk past with carefully imagined satisfaction, one morning when I was taking a short rest, here, on this very bench there he was, just over there eating his luncheon with the servant. His door opened wide and a social services person from La Mairie appeared, a young woman named Sylvie wearing an immensely broad pill-box hat, like the Chapeau de Paille of Rubens and was followed by an even smaller lady wearing a black lead-pointed helmet. Nando bounded to his feet and Grabsia looked at him, expecting to see him beat the woman with his huge and habitual bare fists. But just one of them merely shook the hands of the little lady, who said: 'I have a big surprise for you, ny boy. See here I have a British chap in need of a bed and sustenance for a day or two: see; this daft little bugger, who moved so suddenly here some two or three years ago, decided to sell his home and forgot to buy another one. Isn't that a queer thought?'
A day or two later Sylvie returned. "Here is your guest Fernand, served up as promised. Mind him well, or the forethought of my premise will leap back to nip you, of that I can assure you. This man has plenty to gurgle about and is very foolish, so don't go doing anything rash for he is sometimes of a mind to go shooting and burning everything in sight if there is the slightest unpleasantness. I have given you warning. Give him something to eat if you will Fernand my friend; he looks like a good hungry fellow. Good-day Fernand. There will be better days, good enough for all, and I must now find lodgings for his jammy sister, Maribel.' She went out."
"What the devil! For whose benefit did she do that?" Fernand exclaimed in wrath. "For that of the part time toilet attents and sweeper men?"
"By Jove!" I said, "that was a cryptical exclamation Elizabeth, what on earth did he mean by that?" To which she replied simply. "Have you never been to Electricladyland Sir?........ This man Ralph," she continued, "was a mean looking fragile fellow, skinny as a rake with thin white skin, shifty eyes, grey hair, unshaven on his cheek bones and with a little mustache which made him look very stupid, a little timid and thoroughly bad. Shrewd as he was, Fernand read him at once, and, reassured, he made him a sign to sit down. Then he said: 'will you take some soup Monsieur?'
The gray faced Britisher did not understand. Nando then became bolder, and pushing a hollow unappetizing plateful of soup right under his nose, said: 'Here, swallow that, you great big stupid bazooka!'
Ralph answered 'cripes,' and began to eat greedily, while the tradesman, triumphant, feeling he had regained his reputation, winked his eye at the servant, who was making strange grimaces, suppressing both his fear of foreigners and a huge desire to laugh.
When Ralph had devoured his soup, Mister Nando gave him another bowl, which disappeared in like manner; but he flinched at the third which old Doh most strongly tried to insist on his eating, saying: 'Come, put that fat greasy shit into your little tummy it will broaden you out, grub's up my little piggy!'
Mister Parsons, as I do believe his name was, understanding only that he wanted to make him eat all his soup, laughed in a absent manner, making a sign to show that he could not hold any more.
Then Nando, became quite angry and poked him roughly in the stomach, saying: 'my, is there more than rather plenty in this little belly of thine?' Then suddenly he began to writhe with laughter, unable to speak. An idea had struck him which made him choke with mirth. 'That's it, that's it, Saint Fernand has a little fat pet pig. At last here's my British pig, and I will stuff him with good old fashioned French foodstuffs!' Wife and servant burst out laughing in their good turn.
The old fellow was so pleased that he had some strong liquor brought in, good stuff too, Fil En Dix no less, and he treated every one. They clinked glasses with the silly Brit, who clacked his tongue by way of flattery to show that he enjoyed it. And Saint Nando exclaimed in his face: 'is not that ze business? You don't get anything like that in your pitiful little land, now do you little piggy?'
From that time old man Fernand never went out without his little home-counties man. He went to see his neighbors every day, arm in arm with his foreigner, whom he introduced in a jovial manner, tapping him on the shoulder: 'See, here this my little piggy wig wig; look and see if he is not growing fat, the beast!'
And they would all beam with great smiles. 'He is so comical, old Nando, what a reckless fellow!'
'I will sell him to you, Dominique, for three arsouilles.' (thirty euros, trans).
'I will take him, Fernand, and I invite you to eat some black pudding.'
'What I want is his feet.'
'Feel his belly; you will see that it is all fat. Forty Euros or more, I shall sell to the highest bidder!'
And they all winked at each other, but dared not laugh too loud, for fear the fool of a man might finally suspect they were laughing at him. Fernand, alone growing bolder every day, pinched Ralph's thighs, exclaiming, "Nothing but fat"; tapped him on the back, shouting, 'That is all cold bacon;' lifted him up in his arms like a giant would pick up a pea, declaring, 'He weighs near ninety-five, bejasus! And not a drop of waste in much of that.'
He had got into the habit of inviting people to offer his 'British pig' something to eat wherever they went together. This was his chief pleasure, the great diversion of the day. "Give him whatever you please, he will swallow everything." And they offered the man veal's head and foie gras, fish soup, pigs trotters and tripe, which caused the remark, 'Some of your own favourite ones Nando, and choice ones at that.'
Ralph, still rather confused and thoughtless, ate. Not from from politeness but charmed by the attention, he would make himself sick rather than refuse, and he was actually growing so extremely plump that his jeans had become very tight and uncomfortable for him. This delighted Saint Fernand, who said: 'You know, my friend, we shall have to have another suit made up for you.'
As the world would have it, perverse and badly arranged as it is, they became the best of friends of all time, and everyday as the old fellow went to attend to his business in the neighborhood Ralph accompanied him for the simple pleasure of being with him.
The weather was severe; it rained incessantly throughout that terrible winter and chucked it down for most of the spring, all the scourges of weather had descended on France at one time.
Big Fernand was an opportunist blessed with foresight, a most dangerous and profitable combination. Foreseeing this time that manure would be scarce for the month of May, he bought in great quantities from a neighbor who was known to take inordinate care of his precious droppings and happened to be in need of money, cash strapped as the saying goes and it was so agreed that he should go every evening with Ralph's little cart to get a load.
So every day at twilight they set out in Ralph's beloved Renault 4l, headed for the lands of Skirvishely-Burnett, a league or two distant on the perilous road to Grimaud. Each time it was a festival, feeding the animal along the way. All the neighbors ran over towards them with a crust and some meat, food worth crossing the world for. In the end Nasty Parsons began to suspect something, be mistrustful, and when they laughed too loud he would roll his eyes uneasily, and sometimes they would light up with anger as if Johnny Halliday or Gerard Lenorman were riding by.
One evening when he had eaten his fill Ralph refused point blank to swallow another morsel and attempted to rise and leave the table. Big Fernand stopped him by a turn of the wrist and, placing his two powerful hands on his shoulders, he sat him down again so roughly that the chair smashed under him. Then Nando made as if to comfort his victim, offering soft apologies, vinegar and a warm chestnut plaister. 'There you go again Fernand, Ralph protested lamely, there you go pretending to give a fuck when you don't and it isn't even your turn to give a fuck.'
This particular scene took place upon Sir Nando's sumptuous terrace garden, a massive invasion of Clematis armandii, breathed out a delirious sweetness, covered with white clusters that scattered their fine pollen in a golden cloud, with a scent of honey that bore its balmy seed across space, like the fragrant powders of a perfumery.
And then, suddenly a wild burst of laughter broke forth, and Fernand, beaming, picked up his little toy boy and exclaimed: 'Since you will not eat, you shall drink, nom de Dieu!' They slipped out together silently and bump started Ralph's funny Renault wagon and rolled on directly to Mister Ludo's dreadful barroom to drink some whiskey and to drink some Jack Daniels in particular.
Ralph raised his eyes, which held a wicked expression, but he drank nevertheless; he drank as long as they provided for him, and Saint Fernand held his head up high in imitation and sniffed the air quite comically to the great delight of his beery companions.
Then, red as a tomato, his eyes ablaze, Ralph filled up the glasses and clinked, saying: Here's to you and here's to you and everyone in Les Couillons. Up yours!' Then without speaking a further word, poured down one after another glassfuls of Jack.
It was a contest then! A battle! Who would drink the most? Nom d'un nom! They could neither of them stand any more when the big square bottle was emptied. But neither was conquered. They were tied, that was all. They would have to begin again the next day.
They went out staggering and started for home. Rain began to fall again and again, the starless night was sadly reflected in the glistening raindrops outside the flashing bar lights. The two men began to feel under the weather and undeniably cold, which only aggravated their intoxication. Fernand annoyed at not being the victor, amused himself by shoving his companion so as to make him turn tortoise in the gutter. Each time Ralph corrected himself and tried to dodge backwards, and each time he uttered some British expression in an angry tone, which made the French peasant reel with laughter. Finally poor Ralph lost his temper, and just as Fernand was rolling towards him he responded with such a surprising blow with his fist that Fernand, for the first time in his life staggered and fell.
Then, excited by the bash, the old man rose and seized his puny assailant round the waist, shook him for a few moments as he would have done with a sheep or a goat and pitched him courteously to the other side of the road. Then, satisfied with this piece of work, he crossed his arms and began to laugh afresh.
But stubborn Ralph picked himself up in a hurry, his head bare, his bonnet having rolled off, and drawing his meagre fists rushed over to Fernand. As Ralph approached, head down, ears back, making a lunge with a broken bottle, sure of killing his adversary, the old fellow, squarely avoiding the glass, the points of which would have pierced his stomach, turned it aside with the butt end of a whip before striking the filthy foreigner a sharp blow on the temple and he fell to the ground.
He remained there, still and silent as the grave, a dead man.
Nom de pas Dieu! What was he to do? He would be shot! They would burn his house, ruin his district! How could he hide the body, conceal the fact of his death, deceive Sylvie and the ever burgeoning English community? He heard voices in the distance amid the pattering of the rain. All at once he roused himself, and picking up the bonnet he placed it thickly over his victim's head. Then, seizing him round the body, he lifted him up in his arms, and thus running with him, he caught up with Ralph's beautiful Renault 4 dung wagon which had been rolling its own leisurely way home ever since they arrived. Dodgy handbrake to be sure. He threw the body without thought or ceremony into the spacious shit lined rear. Once in his own house he would think up some plan.
He drove slowly, racking his brains, but without result. He saw, he felt, he knew for certain that he was lost. He entered his courtyard. A light was shining in one of the attic windows; Grabsia was not asleep. He hastily backed his wagon to the edge of his manure heap and dumped the lifeless contents of the cart. He buried the corpse roughly under the huge pile then evened it down a little with his fork, which he stuck in the ground beside it. He called Grabsia, told him to park the car and went to his room.
He went to
bed, still thinking of what he had best do, but no ideas
came to him. His apprehension increased in the quiet of
his room. They would shoot him for sure! Bathed in fearful
perspiration his teeth chattered, he rose shivering,
unable to stay another minute in his bed. He went
downstairs to the kitchen, took the bottle of Cognac from
the sideboard and carried it upstairs. He drank two large
glasses, one after another, adding a fresh intoxication to
the late one, without quieting his mental anguish. He had
done a pretty stroke of work, nom de Dieu, idiot! He paced
up and down, trying to think of some stratagem, some
explanations, some cunning trick, and from time to time he
rinsed his mouth with another swallow of "Fil En Dix" to
give him courage.
But no ideas came to him, not one.
Towards midnight his watch dog, a kind of cross cut wolf called Bernard, began to howl frantically. Poor Fernand shuddered to the marrow of his bones, and each time the beast began his long and lugubrious wail the old man's skin turned to goose flesh. He sunk into a chair, his legs weak, stupefied, done up, waiting anxiously for Bernard to set up another howl, and starting convulsively from nervousness caused by terror.
The clock downstairs struck five. The dog was still howling. The peasant was almost insane. He rose to go and let the dog loose, so that he should not hear him. He stepped out timidly into the darkness. The rain was still falling. The earth was all dark, the neighbouring buildings stood out like black patches. He approached the kennel. The dog was dragging at his chain. He unfastened it. Bernard gave a bound, then stopped short, his hair bristling, his legs rigid, his muzzle in the air, his nose pointed towards the manure heap.
Fernand, trembling from head to foot, faltered:
'What's the matter with you, you filthy hound?' and he walked a few steps forward, gazing at the indistinct outlines, the sombre shadow of the courtyard. Then he saw a form, the form of a man sitting on the manure heap!
He gazed at it, paralyzed by fear, and breathing hard. But all at once he saw, close by, the handle of the pitch fork which was sticking in the ground. He snatched it up and in one of those transports of fear that will make the greatest madman brave he rushed forward to see what it was.
It was he,
Ralph, come to life, covered with filth from his bed of
shit which had kept him warm. He had woken up in a daze,
climbed out of his stinking grave and sat down
mechanically atop and remained there in the rain which
sprinkled down. All covered with dirt and blood as he was,
and still stupid from drinking, dazed by the blow and
exhausted from his wound and too stoned to understand
anything, he made an attempt to rise. But the old man
recognized him and began to foam with rage like a wild
'You are not dead! he sputtered. You are going to denounce me Ralphy, Now I am a dead man.'
get played ny, It's that simple.' Ralph replied in a
slovenly arrogant way.
Without thinking he rushed towards poor Ralph and with all the strength of his great arms, he flung the raised fork like a lance and buried the three prongs full length in his chest. Ralph fell over on his back, uttering a long death moan, while the old peasant, drawing the fork out of his breast, plunged it over and over again and again into his abdomen, his stomach, his throat, like a madman, piercing the body from head to foot, as it still quivered, and the blood gushed out in streams.
dirt, you get dirty. Ralph.'
Finally he stopped, exhausted by his arduous work, swallowing great mouthfuls of air, calmed down at the completion of the murder. The cocks were beginning to crow in the poultry yard and it was near daybreak, he set to work to bury the man. He dug a hole in the manure till he reached the earth, dug down further,working wildly, in a frenzy of strength with frantic motions of his arms and body.
When the pit was deep enough he rolled the now massive corpse of his own creation into it with the fork, covered it with earth, which he stamped down for some time, and then put back the manure, and he smiled as he saw the now heavy rain finishing his work and washing away its traces.'
His mind was calm and clear. If the baker thinks that all the world revolves around his morning batch of crusty bread or the postman believes that he alone is the preserver of society, the hairdresser has a very bright future, but the Newsagent has got another think coming. Such delusions are necessary to keep us all going, and so thought Fernand, who's cherries and cork oak platters meant the whole world to him.
however, does not end here and I find it rather sad; for
Fernand, when finishing off the last layer of Ralph's last
resting place said pathetically, 'I do wish I was going in
there with you, Ralph. Wouldn't we have a perfectly
elegant time down there?' He then stuck the fork in the
manure and went into the house. A bottle of Cognac still
half full stood on the table. He emptied it at a draught,
threw himself on his bed and slept heavily.
I was still thinking about the dead man and at last I turned round to Elizabeth and said: 'Oh! What a horrible thing!'
no special dead man here Ernesto my friend. There’s just a
dead mandead.” Elizabeth observed and finishing her tale
in such a manner, she tried to take leave of me. "Wait a
moment," I said, "this was a brutal and cold blooded
murder, yet you make light of it, admire the perpetrator
and despise the victim, how can this be right or proper?
What do the Gendarmes have to say in this matter?"
"This is Les Couillons Sir," she answered me simply "and the Gendarmes may go and castrate themselves for we do not parley with them, ever. If you will permit me the expression, they are nothing but excrement and sometimes they even settle scores between each other. Whenever there is an 'incident' such as this here in this town, and yes there are many, we deal with them in our own way, the truth will always out in such a small community as ours but those boys in blue will never know the truth, we see to that. A murder although not commonplace and rarely to be condoned must be dealt with on merit. This particular one is classified Prince Ernesto. Even you can't change a turd into gold. Understand?"
IN WHICH THE PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN WORD
'BARTENDERY' IS SKILLFULLY INTRODUCED.
September again and I have no news. I
live in Steve's cellar now so I can look up at the rain. I
need to go back to school, because I love school. Glorious
September, all green and fresh after the ravages of
August, but with mellower mornings and no skateboards,
bicycles or know it all, vulgar teachers on the streets.
The grim valleys are filled with deep mists as if the
ghosts of summer had deftly put them there, just for the
sun to warm to its business. The dews are heavy and the
trees glisten like emeralds; here and there are great
piles of browned off, long suffering London plane tree
leaves, ready willing and much more than able to block all
the drains in town, but they just lie there peacefully,
waiting for Denis and the power blowers to to run them
noisily through. The tardy sweet chestnut leaves are still
a canopy of green, but the ferns are sear and brown and
the catnip has lost a tad of pungency. There is a strange
heaving in the air that seems to inspire the hearts of
over-laden backpackers with stupid sticks and jolly boots
and hats; nice scarves, banana sandwiches and poor
circulation. Carrying carrier bags from Dia, Netto and
Simply Market and big bottles of bottled water. (a litre
and a half a day, recommended, trans.) Time worn autumn
seekers from the big bad suburbs, like snails; slow,
confused, unwilling and crunchy underfoot.
One gloomy evening, one of the gloomiest possible evenings. I was sitting at home at about six o'clock, and I remember that I thought that the evening could not be gloomier. Rain had been falling all day, and it had been a cold, almost menacing rain. Suddenly between seven and eight it had stopped and was followed by a horrible dampness, colder and damper than the rain, a sort of steam was rising from every stone in the street. I had scarcely eaten a thing that day, and had spent most of it alone. Then I remembered that this last Sunday in September was time for the idiot bastard sons to start planning civil disobedience: our annual general meeting was to be held as ever in the venerable but slightly odorous Bar de la Mairie. The innkeeper Ludo, a quite exceptional exponent of the bartendery art, is highly thought of in the district for the independence of his character. This singular but characteristically Parisian landlord is as proud as the owner of a bar and tobacco shop might be, and serves only such customers as meet with his approval. If you are not in Ludos’s good books, there’s no more to be said; you will get nothing out of him either for love or money. From one end of the Maures to the other, people are fond of relating the story of how a certain German fellow came to Ludo’s this very night, asking for beers for himself, his wife and a couple of ugly hounds. Ludo told him coolly:
“You should have given me notice! I can’t do it!”
“There’s no ‘can’t do it’ in the matter. You must do it for me; I am German.”
“I know that very well,” replied Ludo. “I’ve heard them calling you so for the last hour. But even if you were the Bishop of Rome, I can’t do it.”
“Well, look here, if you want me to
tell you….." Ludo looked with ill-concealed disgust at the
car outside, ”I’ll have no Skoda drivers in my house
if you please!”
The German was incensed.Night fell. The gloomy purple tint of nature changed into deep violet, and then quite dark. A swirling pool of clear water gleamed like glass over the river-stones outside; I loitered a while outside this watering-place of untamed beasts, waiting for the third member to show up. The bar lights cast a queer-shaped shadow of Steve's protuberance but the sight of Maurin suddenly calmed his rising anger.
Back to our AGM. I firmly believe that we were the only men that night to have entered the bar with honest intentions. As good and responsible citizens we have been trying for several years to undermine and disturb the town's annual Chestnut Festival, without notable success, a comedy of stupid errors in fact. Like the year we decided to Rick Roll the whole town from a secret rooftop location; the crowds just loved it, as it totally drowned out the official tuneless quartet with their outstanding repertoire of dismal brassy monotones. A mistake which as ever, led to utter failure. From here my fine fellows I'm sure it is a goodly long way to Tipperary, and please do tell just what did happen when those Saints Came Marching In?
A few years back, I had the devilishly cunning idea of a bomb scare, which, had I been successful would have caused the most unmistakable havoc. Imagine trying to evacuate ten thousand scare-witted and terrified souls from an isolated spot, with all roads in and out closed to all traffic for the day. Fortunately I decided to make the call myself, I spoke in English replenished with a rather unconvincing Irish accent; my call was naturally misunderstood and promptly dismissed. With hindsight, this may have been a good thing, as it could very easily have backfired on us, the prank I mean, not the bomb, because it was just a hoax. Of course it was a hoax. So once again the dubious brotherhood of chestnut growers formed their procession, the nucleus of which was a band of lay associates in white surplices, carrying tapers in their hands, and two or three more penitents in cowls.
Most of the local chestnut production is made into a medicated goo called crème de Marrons, cooked and prettily packaged by a small handful of appalling ladies. Every village in the world has a couple of old dears who make pots of jam, without jam-making necessarily becoming the mainstay of the local economy; not so in Les Couillons.Last year I pragmatically adopted the – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em approach. This was the only ruse that we can assume to have been successful, so therefore does not fulfill all the proper requirements of a regular practical joke. I had a stand where I sold my very own and quite horrendous 'chestnut' flavoured spread made from sugar wheat flour , caramel and cheap cooking oil with a label that suggested that it was far better tasting and much better for you than the sensational Nutella itself. The pith is, that the mixture was spiked with a very potent dose of marijuana, but since nobody opened the jar and tucked in immediately (I do not not supply plastic spoons), I never enjoyed the pleasure of witnessing their disquiet.
Day had died and the street deserted.
Through the low rounded arch doorway which Ludo had
forgotten to close, laughter could be heard; and the clink
of wine-glasses, the unmistakable popping of champagne
corks; and behold, floating over all the jolly uproar, a
feminine voice singing clearly and joyously:
"I came in like a wecking ball
Yeah, I just closed my eyes and swung
Left me cwouching in a blaze and fall
All you ever did was bweak me
Yeah, you weck me"
"Throne of heaven!" I ejaculated, turning pale, as I rushed into the enclosure.
Hapless Rodney! what a sight awaited me! Beneath the arches of the little bar-room, amongst bottles, pastry, scattered cushions, pipes, tambourines, and guitars. It was none other than Little Eva the First Lady, singing for all her worth with an officers' cap slung coyly over one ear. She wore a blue bodice, a silvery gauze wrapper and full pink trousers. At her feet, on a rug, surfeited with sweet wine and sugar coated peanuts, Rabba, the infamous Rabba 'O Reilly, was bursting with laughter at hearing her song.
On seeing me and my badge haggard, thinned and dusty, with flaming eyes and the bristling up fez tassel, Eva sharply interrupted her tender chansonette and piped the low whine of a frightened leveret, and ran for safety into the back room. But Rabba 'O Reilly did not wince, not a bit of it; this man of ovbious Algerian and Irish descent, judging by his name, drunkeness and obliging prolixity only laughed the louder, saying:
"Ha, ha, Monsieur Rodney! What do you
say to that now? You see she does know some English."
I advanced furiously, crying: "Captain Kabyle!"
He said "Wot?"
I asked him with a pretty low-bred gesture: "Digo Steve que vengue, moun bon!" (Tell Steve what just happened my good man! Trans.)
Poor Rabba, overwhelmed and completely ignoring me let himself collapse once again onto the floor.
"I told you not to trust the English speakers," observed Captain Rabba, still flat on his back. "They're as tricky as an elected mayor."
I lowered My head.
"Do you know where she is?"
"Oh, she's not far off. She has gone to live five years in the handsome house of Mustache-on-the-Rhone, you have to keep your peepers jolly well skinned in this deuce of a country, or be exposed to very disagreeable things.
The German continued his appeal for beer with great belligerence and my advice to Ludo was "to apply directly to the superintendent's office, as without the assistance of the police that German will never be made to see reason." These words I uttered with firmness and aplomb, and I feel, expressing an exceptional presence of mind.
"Will you ever be sober Rodney?" Steve
said to me all of a sudden.
A strange question indeed but I did not pay too much attention as some rather disturbing rumours were circulating among the spacious ways and sumptuous buildings of this vast and airy bar room, that two strangers were abroad. Then suddenly the two fellows in person burst into our jolly gathering. One, a sturdily built bon-vivant of military mettle was accompanied by a larger but more finely featured dandy and in they came through the swinging doors and demanded rum and orange juice in large glasses for all the company. Unfamiliar with the wondrous cuisine at Borello's, they had strutted into the place and seen the immense hog was being exhibited and insisted on its being prepared for their dinner, broiled in gin if you please.
Colonel Patrick Bondage and his bulky
sidekick Victor "peppercorn" D'Arves, artiste-peintre
were now among us and buying drinks, welcome aboard
principles of economics in this town," Steve said out loud
with some emotion, "The economic principles of tourism, I
do not in the least understand a thing about those horrid
economics, you walk into the room like a camel, and then
you frown, you put your eyes in your pocket and your nose
on the ground, there ought to be a law against you coming
around. You should be made to wear earphones!"
"I will explain them to you," the military man answered, and began at once to tell him of the beneficial effects of the introduction of foreign money into our community, upon which he had read an article in The Voice of the morning. "A knowledge of economic trends is fundamental to strategic development, but with a solid working knowledge of economic concepts and analytical techniques, the nature of tourism is being transformed by innovations in information communication technologies, market liberalisation and climate change.
Steve interrupted, after listening for some time. "What nonsense you are talking. What is economics without any money changing hands, what is the economics of standing, staring and eating ice-cream?" Although Steve had foreseen something of the sort, the reckless inaccuracy of the Colonel's bullshit had quite upset him.
"Rodney, what's a frontal lobotomy again?"
circulating, having a quiet word with anyone who would
listen and many that would not.
"I tell you, my poor Monsieur Rodney for
a sample, beware of that Lupano's little
"Please, Captain, lower your tone in
front of the Klingons, but what farce? Which Lupano. Do
you mean professor Longhair? Are they all scamps in this
Rabba snapped his fingers like a wizard. "My dear lad, you know, these village folk are a bit rum! But believe me, we'd best get us off to a night club at full speed."
"It's easy to say, 'get us off.'
Where's the money to come from? Don't you know that I am
"What does that matter?" said the captain merrily. "The Zouave (Fiat Punto, trans.) leaves at one o'clock sharp, and if you like I will take you with me. Does that suit you, mate? Aye? Then all goes well. You have only one thing left to do. There are some bottles of fizz left, and half a pie. Sit you down and pitch in without a grudge."
After the minute's wavering which self-respect commanded, I chose my course manfully. Down I sat, and we touched glasses. Little Eva on hearing the distinctive chink, slipped back into the room almost naked and clutching what seemed to me to be like a small goat, miming what could surely be non other than the grande finale of "Blurred Lines." The jollifications were prolonged deep into the evening.
Around midnight, with a light head but
heavy foot, I took a break from my friend the captain and
went outside to wander a little. As I ambled towards the
old bridge, the remembrance of this Luciano, or Lupano,
whatever his name was and his practical jokes almost made
me laugh. Instantly a capital idea of retaliation flitted
through my brain. His door was open. I entered, threaded
long corridors hung with mats, I mounted and kept on
mounting till I finally found myself in a little oratory
where an openwork iron lantern swung from the ceiling and
embroidered an odd pattern in shadows upon the blanched
walls. No offense, but, eh… clearly, this man's stairs do
quite not reach the attic, if you know what I'm saying. In
the end I uncovered the notorious wordsmith on a divan in
his large turban and white Celisse, with his Guantanamo
pipe and a bumper of absinthe which he had whipped up
smartly in the orthodox manner. There he sat awaiting
impatiently to enter the crazy world of Mark Zuckerburg
When he saw me, he dropped his pipe in
terror. He was definitely not going to 'Like' this.
"I am not a merry man, so assimilate this!" I said, full of my project. "Quick! Off with the coat and that turban made for two!"
The addicted social networker tremblingly handed over his outer garments, as he would have done with anything else. As I donned them and gravely stepped out upon his minaret balcony I could just make out glistening brown roofs glittering in the moonbeams and heard the humming from Ludo's jukebox. I flung mirthful maledictions to the four winds. Saint-Tropez here we come.
As soon as I returned to the bar Ludo
began addressing me in accents of stern reproof: “I’m not
fond of traitors, and I won’t have them inside my house.
Us hardworking merchants make more money in October than a
layabout like you in a month of Sundays! Go and get your
beer somewhere else.”
Nothing to do, nowhere to go, I wanna be
sedated, but within minutes the Zouave had her steam
full up, ready to go. I was more than a little happy to be
leaving Steve and Maurin behind and embark on an adventure
of my own.
From the terrace of the Gendarmerie, flag full mast, the officers were leveling telescopes, and with the Brigadier at their head, looking self-satisfied at the speeding little craft, "O'Reilly and Lupano Sir! Heading east on another monumental binge. Take aim Staff Sergeant Freemon! Tamp 'em up solid, fire away!"
Gerard Lupano shared a link: "It may be
well to remind the European reader that the turban
consists of two parts, that is a skull-cap and a linen
cloth, which is wound round it in various folds and
shapes, to form the well-known Eastern head-dress."
IN WHICH THE CAPTIVE BOUND BY HIS BERET
IS PROPERLY HORRIFIED.
Over the years, this weary-beery village where motion is slow and time often appears to stand still has had as many monikers as I’ve had ice cream sandwiches or jellybeans: from the ‘Chestnut Capital of the Observable Universe’ to ‘Sustainable Development Is Us’, even ‘Les Couillons, Sod the Euro, We Like Francs’. Just to name a few. I thought I was the only man with the leisure and good fortune to sit around all day waiting patiently for facial hair to grow, but no, they're all at it these days, even the horses. Today, my redoubtable Department of Cunning Stunts (Steve) completely surpassed itself by proposing that we should no longer respect the frivolous notion of energy saving time, and even though I had no notion of what he was talking about, I did think it would be a good idea not to turn back the hour this year because it disturbs me horriblry every time. This year I will remain resolutely on TSC, (Standard Couillons Time), now time. One full hour ahead of the rest of France for five months of the year.
time will actually stand idle, as the others reset their
clocks and watches! An extra hour in bed one Sunday a
year, yipee! I'm for having one every bloody day. Be free
and open and breezy Rodney, Enjoy. Things just won't get
any better so get used to it.
what the locals would make of this latest brilliant idea,
so rather late one afternoon I decided to find out. I
donned my standard issue uniform and went walkabout in the
chilly maze of lacklustre streets that is Les
Couillons. I was looking for a representative handful of
the said locals, easily distinguishable from throngs of
tourists in short trousers, rudely slurping ice-cream by
their heavy overcoats and unsteady teetering gait. I was
not unduly surprised to discover a general air of
indifference; A great number of people told me that since
I was not from round here, I was a dork and most probably
a nutjob which was rich, coming from them. Others, like
the brothers Aggoon, Pierre and Lucille, just shrugged and
said it would make little difference to them as they
didn’t have a job, the television reception in the village
was “La merde”, the shops never opened on time and the bus
service was erratic to say the least. So why should anyone
O’Riley, hunter gatherer 37, one of Rabba's huge
collection of brothers shrugged some more. "Out here in
the woods I farm for my goods, I get my back into my
living. I don't need to fight to prove I'm right and I
don't need to be forgiven. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don't cry,
don't raise your eye It's only teenage wasteland!"
I really thought he was kidding, but then he looked at me and just said sadly pointing upwards at the sun, " It's about ten past one and way past my lunchtime, that’s how I tell the time. Mispositioned solaire!"
On a brighter note Florian “Luftwaffe” Biaggio, 22, unemployed, was a hugely enthusiastic supporter of such a bold and practical idea.
“I could sleep in ’till midday and still have time to nip to Dillmart and buy me some brew for breakfast before they close for lunch. Bloody ruddy marvellous if you ask me”.
A spokesperson representing the two grocery stores, three bars, seventeen restaurants, two bakers and a pharmacy told me unequivocally to fuck off and that none of them really gave a toss. For their part, the bank and Post Office would continue their policy of opening and closing as they saw fit, or simply decide to close down permanently, for our “convenience”.
the last Sunday in March, me in my lovely little village
will be one hour ahead of everybody. Bloody light years
ahead if you ask me, and an excellent time for putting
Slinkies on the Town Hall steps.
never comes single handed, what about this little trifle
to brighten up a lonely chill winter’s day? This year
‘Birdy’ Namnam and her disreputable corporation finally
agreed to my suggestion to outlaw all instances of Father
Christmas. Ho! Ho! Fuckin’ ho! I believe they even
instructed the elves to fun themselves, but that is not
really any of my business. Great news though anyway, not
one single fat bearded bastard to be seen on the streets
this year, not one, and all this in favour of the the
greatest rock and roll band of all time. So here is a
special mention from Steve for a very wonderful and
distinguished harmonica player from America.
How does he
compare to the Sonny boys, the Sonny Terrys? Favourably.
What about the Little Walters or the Big Walter
Hortons? Junior Wells, Snooky Prior, Little JJ
Milteau or the fabulous Lee Oskar? They couldn't
hold a candle, period. So let's just have a big hand for
the very very wonderful Mister Magic Dick.
On my instruction Steve had skilfully pinned neat little posters head height on every tree in the village:
“Coming soon to a town near you, super Rough-Cut Tuesday, but Wednesday December 12, don’t touch the knobs, I think we’re gonna have a little fun with this one, it’s the J Geils Band day!”
(More accurately I would have said, J Geils late afternoon and early evening.)
For several days now, at wanton expense to the ingrate taxpayer, a massive team of highly trained yet strangely strange and incompetent municipal work-persons have called a truce on their war against dead leaves in order to devote their time to stringing up, no not gaudy Christmas knick-knacks and glittery tidings of untold joy, none of that for 2012 folks. Nothing but huge and hefty public address speakers all around the town and all hooked up to Birdy’s very own Red Hat workstation with Mp3 playback enabled. The lady makes demands!
"The things she wears at work they hang off her kinda loose. Her blouse don’t fit, the pants ain’t right she ain’t no front page news but when her work is done and the night time turns to day, the headlines flash in neon, that the girl has taken flight. She’s a Leafblower! Oh yeah, oh ah yeah ho hey, ouh!"
J Geils day in Les Couillons? You think I’m kidding right? Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Statistics prove over and over and beyond unreasonable doubt that there are proportionally more J Geils fans here than in Boston, Detroit and Clovis NM put together! Even Birdy herself could not refute Steve's awesome logic and refreshing common sense. J Geils day it is!
Wednesday 12/12, from 3pm Couillo Coordinated time, shoot up the town and treat yourself to an uninterrupted hi-fidelity stream of J Geils magic. Roam the streets, point, lick and listen up. In a word, enjoy, and all this, courtesy of our very own angel in red, white AND blue.
And the lesson we learn from this story is, next time you come to town don’t forget to say,
“Whammer Jammer, let me hear you dig you!"
IN WHICH I SPENT A LITTLE TIME ON THE MOUNTAIN, I SPENT A LITTLE TIME ON THE HILL, I HEARD SOMEONE SAY "BETTER RUN AWAY."
of a bright brisk October morning, I appeared by a
roadside in my habitual condition. I had stumbled
down the sides of twelve misty mountains and stepped
in the middle of seven sad and densely wooded hillsides.
Rather out of breath I tripped my way down a rumbling path
between tangled trees towards a valley owned by three big
fat Donkeys. After walking two or three times up and down
a familiar narrow lane, I was tempted at last by the
pleasantness of the morning to stop at the gates of the
great and fine house recently acquired by Britishers and
look into their park. This was the famous sculptured
garden house which had been hastily put on the market by
poor Mrs. Parge following the "mysterious" disappearance
of her husband Bert, the worst-tempered man in all
England. It had been snapped up greedily for a seven
figure sum. There is always a "pigeon', as they say.
(Don't get that one. Trans.)
A warm sunlight was working its way through heavy evergreen oaky olive leafage; a sunlight which was now of such dark a yellow that it had taken on the quality of evening. It was such a sunlight that reminds a local man that here at Gallo Pastré the sun begins to set behind those dark and frightful hills of Hatfield and the North an instant after the clock strikes midday.
In these battered parts where black is the color and none is the number, two cars stopped on the road are considered to be a traffic jam. A brilliantly emblazoned Ford van with a trailer and a well worn and smoking hot metallic turquoise Opel were waiting forlornly by a pair of stubborn gates which should have opened on to a glorious meandering driveway that would, eventually, have led their drivers to their place of work, or remuneration at any rate.
"Good morning, I am Chirp, at your servile! Chirp Services, to put it another way." Said an elegant smooth-talking lumberjack man from the spartan white comfort his van, tugging through bad habit at an imaginary or long forgotten forelock as I strolled past trying to look in another direction.
"Like hell you are! What are you doing here? This is not the Eric Dolphy memorial barbecue." I said without thinking or rather thinking about something quite different.
"Paarf! It's easy enough to grumble at me. Say what is to be done my friend, that's a little harder!"
He shone crossly through clenched teeth. "I am Mr. Chirp and my expert staff are people deeply embedded, ready willing and capable of providing services!"
Then with a shady grin he rephrased almost with apology.
"We dominate vulnerable people. You know; old, insane or foreign people who don't have the time, tools or sense to do things for themselves. The great gardening hoax as I like to call it." (The cream of the joke was that he really believed it! Trans.)
This individual, I thought to myself seems to be the vehicle of a personality that is not his own. Someone else's personality seemed to possess him and he appeared to be finding enjoyment in his expression of another self. With the sharpening of his desire to withdraw, he seemed to have a despotic urge to dig in a little deeper and to run to and fro in quest of money.
"Yes I know who you say you are, it says so quite clearly on your van. You are Kaufland's man, I know that too, but what are you doing here?"
"We help to run peoples' lives effectively. We help people to succeed by enabling them to enjoy the space around them and we do this by whatever means work best and with an unusual depth of understanding and real know-how through our synchronized strimming, cutting and leaf monitoring services......But at the moment, I am in fact, as it happens, looking for a certain cretin who goes by the name of Mr Didier Belbake, one of my service-mojos, do you happen to have seen him?"
"Eh? you lost him?" I asked perplexed.
"In a way, yes, now that you mention it, he is in a manner of speaking quite lost. I have known him for the best part of ten years and I saw him just last week but I cannot for the life of me remember what he looks like."
I looked at him hard for a moment but did not choose to repeat the question and perhaps provoke an impertinent reply. I asked instead unashamedly in a rude and sarcastic manner. "Are you sure are not Mr. Pierre White?"
White was a stout well cared for man of my reluctant acquaintance. At sixty-nine, he looked the picture of health and bore an uncanny resemblance to a smiley snooker ball; the pink, six points. (Six points, Trans.) A lot of people were always complaining that there was a constant unpleasant aroma coming from his person. He himself could smell it clearly, but he was never sure whether it was the sort of thing that others could smell, which worried him more than somewhat, because of all the things in all the world, he placed above all others being nice and popping bottles of bubbly.
The sportsman put his foot flat down and firmly on my new idea. (They really are doubles I laughed to myself. Like two peas. Not as alike as two peas in a pod or anything like that, just peas, a pair of peas or a couple of clergymen, or a duo of Bishops. It is also very possible of course that they are two pink fairies too).
"Don't go mixing me up with him," he said. "I am Chirp. You can tell me by my birthmark. Look see!"
"Don't drop those pants Vic!" I exclaimed in horror. But we was too late.
Although Mister Chirp had undoubtedly understood the questions I had asked him, he had not given me one single piece of useful information. His talk was only a series of disconnected sentences having no relation whatever to the general situation. He remained dumbfounded, overwhelmed and seized with giddiness in the presence of a man who was more pragmatic and less majestic, less haughty but more disquieting than a gate which would not open.
"So you are Chirp Blackbird, Ah! What an exquisite and fancy name it is!" The words just burst from my lips in a natural explosion of reasonableness. "I have very many ways in the world to think ill of you, but there was no need to drop those pants old boy! I have heard about the birthmark, we all have. You are Chirp, aren't you? The enemy of the leaf and the scourge of unruly hedges. The man with The Soft Machines."
His pitiful indignation may easily be conceived so I shall not attempt to describe it, there was however very little doubt left in my mind that the man was beginning to show clear signs of catatonic excitement.
Suddenly the aforementioned Didier appeared, struggling boyishly up the road. Autumn's child straddled awkwardly upon a B'stard-Twin bicycle, dressed in matching mole-skin shorts and waistcoat, studded with odd little ornaments such as pencils, penknives and lollipops. In his big orange baby shoes he had fallen victim to a sluggishness which annihilated his most cunning plans, broke his will power and invoked a cortège of vague reveries to which he passively submitted. Today he looked exceedingly moody and dejected and appeared on closer inspectin' to be sorely wounded. His face was bandaged and marked, not by the hand of God, but by the claws of Clancy the local tom-cat, a mishap incidental to contract gardening in this very neck of the woods.
"But the worst b b b b bit of all," he stammered alarmingly; " Now Clancy can't even sing anymore. He's been 86'd!"
Six days they said he had remained without appearing in public, now all of a sudden he was on the top of his form. Ritually removing his white gloves, he looked Chirp in the eye and said: "I didn't mean to be late; I stopped on the bridge a moment to shine a man's pate and to appease a yellow haired wench. I loitered a while to watch other curious people too. I hope you weren't too you anxious Chirp." He cried, patting his pal kindly on the head with the sharp end of a rake.
"Oh do get up!" He implored, waving his hands wildly. "Get up Chirp! We're in the wrong town! We're not in Lyons at all. Lyons is ten miles, twenty miles, five hundred miles away. God knows what! We must be at the end of the world here, or somewhere near Amersfoort."
"I am interested to hear that," I interrupted, "for I am at present making a little list of all the things that are really better in Holland than in this country. Just one month spent wandering, combined with small intelligence will teach you that there are many things that are better in Holland than elsewhere. Many quite ordinary things are better there. Cheese for one, Estate Agents for another. There are things that are entirely Dutch and yet entirely good; such as appeltaart or Bitterballen or snert. Hand rolling tobacco, nettle cheese, social tolerance, legalized euthanasia and Mr. Robin Van Persie above all.
"Open the gates man! This garden is in a disgraceful condition Grabsia!" Chirp's stifled bark was most audible, but there was no answer. He was addressing Grabsia. Grabsia again and again, another Kaufland man, or woman, depending on his choice of dress, or skirt. This little Kabyle thing that I now for obvious reasons affectionately call Joey Cole. (He's here, he's there, he's every f*cking where, Joey Cole, Joey Cole. Trans.)
"How can you be so impudent man? Open the gates, I tell you! You don't whore for me. You mustn't be smart either; you're an impudent lousy fellow, such an impudent lousy fellow I've never met with." Chirp hurled a little .
"Steady on Chirp old chap, Didier observed sensibly, putting both his fingers in his ears to make his point more clearly. "He doesn't hear. He's deaf from the head down, you know."
"Are you indeed?" Replied Grabsia. "And pray what sort of gormless gargellers do you make all dressed up like the Chippendales?"
We laughed aloud. He was deaf yet he talked like a torrent.
"What are we to do?" Grabsia continued. "The eclectic gates are broke, they hum and whir alright but they just won't open loike ordinary gates."
"I MUST and WILL come in," Chirp boomed with extraordinary firmness.
Then in unmistakable shock, "What the fuck!!!" he exclaimed eagerly. "Why? There's a hole there in that opening thing!" Mister Chirp then declared suddenly and a bit too strongly this time, "every moment we spend here helplessly is costing me money, someone has been shootin' at it why don't somebody stick their stick in there or better still put some money in my bag?"
Grabsia bent down to examine the self-opening mechanism and said solemnly." There seems to be a lot in the papers about this new cat shaving lotion, I think it would be for the better if you were to shove your own stick in it young man. And stick it with care," he added. As if it was even necessary.
"It's been shot then stuffed up with a pair of trews or something." Exclaimed Chirp, disarmed.
"Well, why don't you just push the pants in a bit?" Grabsia advised.
At this moment a curious smothered giggle was clearly heard.
"Shut the fuck up Didier!" Cried an angry Chirp, very rudely.
"Oh, do excuse me," gasped the poor man, wiping tears from his eyes. "This is dreadful, I didn't mean to laugh, I don't even know why I'm laughing but I just can't help it."
As he said this he began to cry so bitterly that he filled us all with compassion and forced Chirp to look at him, and when he saw him weeping he was so moved that he ran to throw his arms round him, and pressing his face to his, Didier pretended to be dead and grey and motionless as if trying to please his mother. They both gave way to such an outburst of tears that Joey and myself were constrained to stifled yet strangely poignant laughter.
"See, see, he speaks plain and honest, like Country Joe and his Fish." Chirp remarked and again I squirmed and laughed.
Grabsia scratched his ear.
"No, mates," he responded at last, "the dog barks and the caravan passes. Life does go on. The easiest solution to the
problem is seductively clear and you mustn't think about it. That's the great thing, you mustn't think! That's the whole secret of life!"
"What nonsense!" Cried Chirp. "The soul is pained by all things it thinks upon. Don't prank with me small fellow, just watch my hips."
With that, the mighty Chirp scrambled about a bit, took a stick, poked a bit more and began waving it about in the opening, saying, "Come out, come out!" as he did so.
"Oh boy", said Joey Cole "I can see your body moving, half man, half biscuit. I don't don't really know what I'm doing but you seem to have a plan, you move like you come from Colombia!"
"What are you laughing about?" reverberated Sir Chirp in my direction.
"Perhaps at my own stupid fancies, my good friend. Who knows? Allow me at least my British humour. Do I not come of the illustrious nation which actually invented the sense of humour.? Mira en barranquilla se baila así, just say that if you can you daft French wazzock!"
In the darkening sky there was something that wearied, in the setting sun, something that saddened. Chirp was indeed still gyrating and waving the stick, when suddenly the gates of perception flung open and we all flew pill-mill down the driveway.
I can well remember the explosion of human joy which marked the sudden opening, fists in the air Chirp, Yiss!
"Well, well, well, just what are we supposed to do now that we are happy?" Bemoaned Grabsia. This little man always carried a sad expression on him. He gave you the idea of a man who had been through trouble. I asked him if anything was the matter."Nothing is ever the matter", he replied without stirring, arms akimbo looking up at these grand gardeners in handsome looking rum-togs. Standing there in his grubby checked peasant's shirt he looked like a midget before them. He took a step forward.
"We're in! But mind mates," said he, "don't go being insolent, she don't half frown on insolence."
"Who bought this property?" I asked gingerly, forwardly.
"The cousin of Cyrano de Bergerac. Roxanne! " Grabsia replied with an instant and intriguing lie and proceeded in his very best south Algerian accent, "they do say this she wot owns this 'ere Port of London was lookin' at it and might be a bildin' more studios and a golf course with fishin' facilities and a red spot for an 'ellicopter or pickin' a fight. Jellied eels and a dog track, If you know wot I'm sayin' me old mate."
The garden was in fact so goodly and so delightsome, such a beautiful pale green clearing that none of us were able to set another foot forward with the hope of finding more pleasance further on. The sun, now gone right down, made it nowise less irksome to observe the fawns and kids and rabbits and lizards and tortoises and other beasts wot dithered thereabout.
Grabsia at last began to explain by signs that the forever absent mistress of the house, a media veteran and inveterate jogger had made it clear to him on more than one occasion that her grounds must be perfect at all times of the gray day and dark, dark night or it would be the worse for him, for this man for all his shortcomings, persistence and shortcut body bag suit was in overall charge. The gaffer he was to be sure, a living piece of authenticity.
He looked around him, pointed mischievously to the rumpled stomping grounds of wild and boisterous hogs, and made a motion with his hand round his neck, as though he were pulling a noose tight, then glanced with a face of inquiry at Chirp, his erstwhile steward.
"This is very insignificant," he said. "The very funny part of it is though, that the cat thing isn't new at all. It's been talked about ever since I was a boy, and long before. There has always been a notion that the razor might one day be done without somehow. But none of those schemes ever came to anything; and I don't believe that they ever will."
It was becoming increasingly hard for me to understand exactly what could have originated the idea in the fine media lady's disordered brain of taking on Chirp's senseless services simply to undermine the authority of such a fine thinker as Mister Grabsia. Ooh, you old mogul!
"I'm hungry!" Cried Grabsia at last. "I cannot tread a further step without a bite to eat."
"The patients are always served their luncheon at half past twelve. do you want a chestnut?" I said thoughtfully, stooping to pick up a handful that had sprinkled themselves like gold dust on The forest floor.
"No, by thunder Master Rodney!" he replied, "nor does any decent man hereabouts, they are to be collected and sold to the tourists."
"Today then they will be served at one."
"Is that all there is, chestnuts?" Chirp enquired in dismay, "Where's my numnum? I have become accustomed to lunch and a good solid one too."
"I might have some figs." Said Grabsia, the zig-zag wanderer.
"Give me a fig then."
My man generously offered him a carrot.
"That's a Fig?" Murmured Chip, confused.
"I reckon it is," Grabsia replied.
"Yes, I reckon it is, indeed I do. Its a kind of fuckin' Lyonnais fig to be quite precise!"
(A slight skirmish took place, unpleasant banter with carrots, sticks and car keys waved, ready for battle.)
"Sir," said Chirp (with admirable restraint,) you are amusing yourself at my expense and are exhausting my patience. I may be hungry but I sure ain't weird and what's more, We has work to do."
Grabsia who claimed to live on roots and water, could ill avail to answer and dropped his eyes.
"He who dines sleeps!" He declared at last.
"I wouldn't say no to a little nap." Murmured a timid Belbake voice. "It may increase my productivity."
This kind of paranoiac has many specific persecutors. Someone is always against him. There is most certainly some kind of plot to steal his brains. A chip is concealed in his shorts which emits mind rays to soften his brain or to send electric shocks through him while he is sleeping.
There was indeed a very uncomfortable strangeness about Belbake and this was something more than mere ordinary tiredness. He pulled his shorts right up to his neck, fell limply to the ground at the foot of a fairly mighty cypress and immediately went to sleep, mumbling to himself as if trying to grow fins "Who's that stomping all over my face? And who's all hung-up on that happiness thing? The line isn't black, if you know that it's green......" Had he spent some time in Canada?
"What sorry comfort for the sleepless. What starvation!" Chirp yelled in purple fury, "sleeping consists of a loss of one's own awareness, the loss of one's being as well as that of the world and loss of money. We are paid by the hour you moron!"
With that the odd Mister Belbake awoke and tried manfully to climb safely back on board.
We all looked at the man still on the floor.
"Get up, Didi, just nod if you can hear me" said Chirp in a gentle voice. Didier, fresh from slumberland rose as if hypnotized.
"He will do as we suggest now," observed Mr. Chirp. with remarkable delicacy, as I have also discovered that he has torn up the good lady's' instructions."
Didier was as stoned as the doc' at the radar station: "I haven't torn up anything, I mean it! I cannot operate where I am not valued. You must see that. Mister Chirp"
The day had come at last when he could remain standing for nearly whole afternoons, but his eyes were so blank and vacant that I imagined he had become even more half-witted than before. His face, naturally pale, had turned to such a ghastly waxed whiteness that I started at the sight of it. His hands, so sure and steady at all other times, trembled violently and his eyes looked wolfishly past me and fixed on Grabsia. I remarked all this to Mr Chirp who replied that it was of no consequence and none of my business anyway.
"Stay to brunch then!" Cried the fine fingered Grabsia quite dismayed by such a sentimental display. "Geneviève will be here directly."
There was something horrible, something fierce and devilish in his otherwise kind offer of Advocaat, oranges and cedar bitters that somehow threw me, I shivered a little, and dryly advised him to remember to whom he was offering his precious liquids.
"Is there any tea?" asked Belbake plaintively.
"What else is there?"
"Venison, vodka and custard creams."
"Bring me tea and and those custard things"
"And you want nothing else?" Grabsia demanded with apparent surprise. "No cutlery?"
The ragged man retreated, completely disillusioned, before he remembered the spoons. "Spoons!" Cried poor Grabsia in alarm. "Spoons." Unless they're to drink directly from the bowl?
I had a feeling that this may have been turning nasty again, and that I would have few sentences more to add to my diary before going to bed. Then all of a sudden, perhaps carried away by the mere suggestion of meat and vodka and egg-nogg, a violent fit of coughing interrupted poor Mister Cole. He wiped his face with the palm of his hand and looked cunningly at Chirp.
"Hush boys hush!" The tiny man in the checkered blouse roused himself abruptly, halted, sniffed, nose all pricked.
"I smell hogs all about here!" He snorted, still sniffing right and left.
"I am rather surprised at that," said I. "Can you really sniff out pigs with that little crushed Arabian nose of yours?" Then he repeated the strangling action round his neck and significantly struck himself on the chest, as though announcing that he would take upon himself the task of killing what was alarming.
"The Missus is an an ordinary unhealthy, everyday creature and don't take kindly to pigs rucking up her garden. Very partic'lar about the thing she is. Grab your firearms men!"
"If it were not for those blasted gates we could have eaten in comfort." Chirp struck back in a mocking tone. "Yes and later we could have put up a fence. A fence! There's the thing. A fence, an electrical fence he declared, quite as if the idea had just popped into his copious head, which it had. Now that would keep the rotters out!"
I threatened him with my cane, but he only laughed and tried to change the subject. But the mask of self-deception was no longer a mask for me .
"Have you struck gold, Chirp? Making a fence could possibly keep those hogs at bay and certainly make you a terrible lot of money."
"I am suffering from one of my bad headaches," Chirp answered coldly, offering to execute a song and dance, yet evidently disturbed by my insight.
"But for the moment," he continued obstinately, "I demand lunch and then and only then shall we look at the fence." With his outer behaviour he forestalled the danger to which he was perpetually subject, namely that of becoming just somebody's thing, by pretending to be no more than an ordinary hungry man with a headache. Or a cork.
"Oh, all right "I said affably enough. One song, and that's your lot. But please, no dancing!"
"Ma petite entreprise, connait pas la crise" Chirp began to pipe. Please Chirp, really! There shall be no fucking fences and no sodding Alain Bashung either in this land of wild and natural beauty I thought to myself. Then I opened my mouth just a fraction, and said, "what a delightful song, but maybe for all this topiary work; all this automatic watering, swimming pools and gates that open or close at their own volition, or not..... Bollocks," I said. "Maybe your masters have not yet understood how things work round here."
"Enough! I am of an ill humor! " (Chirp indignantly declared.) "La vérité m'épuise. (The truth fags me out. Trans.) it is now very much past past one o' clock, so quite clearly I have eaten. I have enjoyed and digested a very fine lunch indeed. I have no recollection of such a boogie woogie blue plate meal, but given the hour, I have dined and dined well and am deeply satisfied for I have had my baguette and my five cooked meats a day, some cheesy comestibles. and chocolate biscuits all washed down with a delicious sparkling cola drink.......... Yet I shall not sleep my friends. Oh no not I."
The poor Belbake fellow, who had been absorbed in contriving other ways of trying to be real was in fact nowhere to be seen. In the course of a few minutes he reappeared, wiping his lips with the back of his hand with an air of quiet satisfaction that somehow impressed Mr. Chirp. I stood looking at him for some moments, and then I watched him walk in an oddly furtive manner towards his Decathlon branded bicycle where he produced a short clay pipe, and prepared to fill it. His fingers trembled while doing so. He lit it clumsily, and began to smoke in a languid attitude. He had somehow managed to change from shorts and waistcoat into a yellow Nan-keen coat, and a huge brimmed cardboard hat without any of us noticing and now with glaring impropriety the beast was smoking a pipe. The villain lives in comfort!
"To work men!" Chirp exclaimed grossly with a painful expression of anxiety in his face which made me fear that his mind was not at ease. Then the King in yellow dreamily puffing away at his pipe, seemed to me to be in some kind of a rent in his relation with his world and a disruption of his relation with himself. He blew thick clouds of smoke casually into the clear and windless late morning, then suddenly without warning, his expression changed, he stared aghast at his own billows of halfzware shag and exclaimed: "Chirp! Grabsia! Beware. Those dense and vapour ridden clouds we see are an omen and bring no good to us outdoor men; cant you see? Best pack up sharpish and head for shelter....A hard rain is gonna fall."
"To work men!" Chirp repeated. "There's nothing left in me but eat and sleep and work. Time has worn me out so that I have grown so stupid that my mornings are spent in cutting things and most afternoons are nearly always consumed by raking....Unless of course you would like me to tell you all the joke about the weasel with the silver-skin onion up its arse?"
I listened to him perfectly stunned with astonishment. "What nonsense Chirp! Another glass of imaginary claret is hardly going hurt you after that fine lunch of yours. Sit down again and drink like an Englishman. You sir, should unmask. I want half an hour's quiet talk with you over wine."
As he refused, my nervous annoyance changed unevenly to anger. Sit down! "For Heaven's sake, man, sit down." I was livid and quite at the end of my tether "Goodness me!" I looked at him horribly, " Aren't you even going to wipe your mouth?"
I had only intended to advise him a little on table manners and remind him that any French workman worth his salt should drive a Renault Kangoo and not such an inglorious Ford thing, but who was doing this doing the talking anyway?
I examined these two young men as a father might, (sternly but without giving a crap), but thought secretly that they should keep watch upon themselves these two. I should have shot the new people on arrival. Not just their gates, for it is neither right nor proper to do the will of one who demands what is wholly unreasonable.
I don't say that you was a hoe, Chirp. Just made a hoe decision.
After this not so innocent cri de coeur thing of mine, I thought at first there would be a fight, and I thought with regret that Chirp in early life may have had had a hobby of killing lions, or taming horses through want of exercise.
This story of course scarcely concerns me either in my real or any of my assumed characters. There was no fight or anything quite like one
and even if my last remark had conveyed an aspersion of the most offensive kind, this cue ball gardener man will have no other choice but to contrast his own inner emptiness with the abundance of the garden, he will find a welter of conflicting emotions and a frantic envy and hatred of all that is theirs but not his at all.
I curbed my thoughts sharply and broke the thread of my reflections and said in all seriousness.
"If there is one thing I'm curious about: Where the hell did that ray of sunlight come from?"
Being endowed by nature with a romantic imagination, I have become attached more than all the others to the man whose life is an enigma, the one who seems to me the hero of this sad little drama. A man who really does produce sunshine from his arse. He was fond of me too; at least with me alone did he drop his customary incomprehensible tone, and converse on different subjects such as the weather forecast and couscous in a simple and unusually agreeable manner. "This is the tragedy of France; you can judge it by its foremost men and condescend on the little men: but Its types do not typify.
Grabsia looked at me guiltily and dejected, a smile played on his lips, here the hallucination was marked with an exquisite tenderness; "they just don't understand the way of our world."
I hesitated, fearing that my words may be considered an intrusion."Why, then, why don't you make full use of it and may your reverence live to enjoy it for many a year," said I.
"But why do they want to keep the pigs out!? He implored, "Why can't we just do what we always have? Life here revolves around the seasons of the year, drinking wine and watching the grapes and olives grow and fatten; waiting and watching. Waiting for the yummy acorns to fall from the trees, waiting for the autumn rains and waiting for the mushrooms, then waiting again for the big fat wild hogs to come along so we can shoot and scoff the bastards".
"Yes Grabsia," I said in an effort to clear his confusion, "just to think about it, you may very well like to cogitate upon what Westermann has to say on the impingement of reality." I handed him a pamphlet.
Joey Cole stared at me blankly, but my special paper rolled friend, (Bob) hot-tipped, clean and well constructed had prepared me well. I looked squarely at the North African remnant for one brief moment and asked him straight: "Grabsia my friend, are you shittin' me? Do not your religious beliefs deny you the pleasures of alcohol and porkiness?"
He was looking back (to see if I was looking back) and replied simply without displeasure:
"Negatory. I am a Roman Catholic." (You insensitive clod. Implied.)
"I had better get my coat and go home, don't you think?" I asked nicely.
Every one, I suppose has known such stunning instants of abstraction, moments of such embarrassment that will haunt them forever, yet cause such brilliant blankets in the mind. The 'here's a banana for the monkey' moments that can be painful and always have consequences.
(I now firmly believe that my father would let anybody beat him up from sheer good nature, Trans.)
I came back with a shock of sanity to the consciousness that I was, after all, only standing here staring at this grand house, built in defiance of all decency, which in the end was nothing more than an overheated crappy little joint rolling booth. All sorts of people keep booths here and some of them don't even smoke.
Three honest men, Rag, Tag and Bobtail who were here to scrape that Euro or two to feed their families or make a marriage proposal or settle a divorce. In some strange way there was in my mind an unimaginable something that told me that I had once again strayed from the woods into yet another strange world where I did not belong. I felt as if I had crossed some border in the soul and was about to commit a sin. Let's have a nice cup of tea.
I have gained in my professional life sufficient experience of young men to know what outward signs and tokens are not to be taken lightly and I am sorry to say I felt more than doubtful about Mr. Chirp's future. Restrain your exuberant admiration for your name on the side of a van I was thinking.
I got my coat and went home, but not directly, not straight away and not without a drop of comfort at La Bar de la Mairie.
This phase did not last long, I knew nothing really bad had happened, I felt it in me waters. But my memory gave me respite and I plunged again into my pretentious social studies, so as to efface the impressions of such recollections. Now I must get used to feeling happy, and trust it.
I cannot remember of course if anything at all in this chapter is true or not and I can't confirm the details of the arrangement. (Maybe they both sell it and divide the proceeds?) But I definitely felt the need to insert a few rather ingenious lies into it anyway. Nearly every word of the narrative may be veracious, except for the chestnuts of course, because there are none and the egg-nog because I don't remember. The name Westermann and the impingement thing which came to me strangely all of a sudden is a pure fig' of my imagination. Didier's bike was not a Decathlon B machine, but actually rather a tasty Lion brand Peugeot. And speaking of which, Clancy? Well of course he can even sing. Up yours Belbake!
WHICH TREATS OF THE SHREWD CONVERSATION WHICH RODNEY HELD WITH HIS MUSE BIRDY NAMNAM
I tried a bit of ze online shopping instead and ended up with a load of cheapo shit from NoBetterDeal, a Raspberry py from Leeds, the collected absurdity of Soren Kierkegaard, from Amazon of course. Then some baked beans and Marmite from Blighty. Now all I can do is sit and wait for deliverance and download some Phish. Zut! I forgot the sandwich spread.
Twice a week I keep the goal:
Football is a famous game,
good for an Englishman's soul.
Go Chelsea. All the same. Go.
I tried to contact Steve, only to find that he was training, on a course somewhere in Germany; WTF? Taz seemed to be working permanent night shifts and Maurin was doing some kind of competition, a concours or couscous? I forget.
So I decided to take some of my own advice; take all the money in the bank, figuratively speaking, for there is no money any more, figuratively speaking. . Let's just take my plastic card and drink. Drink less but more often, that's what I meant. It was about time that I got to know a few more people in town; forcefully introduce myself to the lads and lasses, the pillars of the counter and the ne'er do wells, of which there are plenty.
Getting back into the good books of Ludo was as easy as going back to the bar a few weeks later and pretending that nothing had happened.
"Morning Shithead! The usual?"
Not the world's most charming man, but how easy it was. All I have to do now is to hold firm on my loose stool and wait for them to come in, and they all do in the end; in for tobacco, a bite to eat, a quick drink, scratch cards or a mug of hot gossip. Fatma, 46 shuffles in for fags and her delightful little brother Lucille is by my side offering me a big bag of yellow golf balls in exchange for a drink. I accepted them of course but I really would have preferred some firewood or a sack of acorns. All this was yet another source of consternation to poor Ludo, will these Kabyles ever come to terms with the odd European habit of paying for things, with money.
There are three kinds of men in this town, those that drink, those that steal and some who do neither. In strolls an incomprehensible deaf German, connoisseur of chilled pink wines and hot little orange chainsaws who would answer cheerfully to the name of Helmut if he only could. He skilfully introduces me to lonesome Cowboy Sergio who stood guard as ever, then Henri Cow, the cadaverous photographer and the good Colonel Bondage and his pal who without being regular guys had become quite the regulars; then a Stephane, another Patrick, a Christophe and some more of the O'Riley tribe. They could be the catalyst that sparks the revolution, they could be inmates in a long-term institution, they could lead to wide extremes, they could do or die. They could yawn and be withdrawn and watch us gullify. What a waste! What a waste! But the world don't mind.
They came and went; the trouble seeking Corsicans, Soddu and Fuccov, one by one, but rarely two by two. I won no friends and had no influence, but I learned a lesson. How to get ahead in this world? Buy someone a drink or have them do the same for you, it makes no difference which. Drink up, drink up again but more importantly agree with every word they say. Every time a dear friend and chatter-merchant left the bar, they would wait a moment before declaring, Yes! What an asshole, a trou de cul, that fella, not to be trusted that one. Couldn't agree more Sir, daft as a brush and mad as the moon, couldn't be more sure of it. Tout a fait d'accord with you on that one.
Hearing all this, Ludo asked me in a matter of fact way, "Do you know England? are they as foolish there as in France?"
"Something very foolish and rather atrocious." Said I.
"How lovey to see you Rodney!"
At last, an English rose, a familiar face in Ray Bans, my very own Doctor Quinn.
"I Just popped in to see my ex, and I have some dry bread and glossy ass magazines for you in the back of my van if you're interested?"
Jolly interested I was as we shared a bottle of rosé, 80/20, in her favour. This philosopher was an honest woman but she had been deprived of her husband, bitten by her donkey, and abandoned by her daughter who got a Portuguese to run away with her, only to be persecuted by the preachers of Colombia.
"Were you ever in France, Mr. Skirvishely ?" She asked most candidly.
"Yes, I have been there on several occasions, and may I say that more than half the people are fools, others are cunning; many are weak and simple but affect to be witty; in short, their principal occupation is sex, the second is slander, and the third is talking bullshit!
"Yes! That's what Jack always says," she replied.
I stayed in the bar for many an hour but It cannot be too often repeated that I am not for sale. In fact I was obliged to stay until closing time, be the last one to go, wait until the transaction was final and conclusive, for I had no desire to hear what they would have to say about me. I was kicked out at eight sharp; It is France not America that drinks and goes home, good on yer.
That J Geils day thing I told you about, by the way turned out to be pretty much of a non-event, weren’t much more than a house party in the end. Taz and Maurin turned up of course, ready to get crazy before actually getting down to it, then Luftwaffe, Rabba, Pierre and Lucille, plus a couple of skankos, by the names of Forty-Six and her daughter Thirteen And A Half, who always show up wherever particular people congregate and the drinks are free. Then Steve, replete in an afro wig, holding a shiny diatonic harmonica which I immediately confiscated. “Gimme dat harp boy!”
He made no mention of Pammy, but dressed a lot more like Steve Jobs than the usual Milbona sportsman's scruff, I guessed he had jumped out of the chestnut stump straight into the fire, luckily he had rescued his seventeen disk vinyl collection of J Geils albums as a sign of his instinctive doubt that Red Hat systems could in fact play mp3.
So there, me included, ten of us. J Geils freaks to a man. Out of a population of under 2000, Steve's statistics speak volumes, you would need at least 40,000 in Boston or Detroit to match that show of cultural devotion.
Although it was one of Steve’s, I had proposed this J Geils day idea to the mayor sometime last year and she had said.
“Yes Melvin, of course, I will give it my full and proper consideration.”
So I took it to be done and dusted and invited my little world. If you had seen those speakers going up you would have jumped to the same conclusion, I’m sure! Bloody Good job I don’t do social fishnets or twitter things or I would have ended up looking like a real chump. Fuck-you very much indeed Mrs. Mayoress!
The town speakers were mute for most of the day, but here at Yendor, the sanctuary, there was no escape, no salvation, it was actually much too dark for revelation. Our street choir went noiselessly down into the cellar, our business there was of a private nature, and had something to do with the specific gravity of my beer. The party finally got started at 12:12 12/12 and went on and on and on, the beer flowed like beer and the music, well to be honest was a bit monotonous, they’re not exactly The Broughtons are they? Finally some dick head lawmen showed up, demanding in a most unfriendly tone that we should turn it down. Knock knock. Who's there?
"La Gendarmerie Nationale,"
And they did. Brilliant, don't you just love them?
A little later though the darned public address system did burst into life. Hark! The horrendous assholes sing; Slade, John Lennon, Wham! And Jona Lewie of course. After a while I was beginning to wish I myself was at home for xmms. (A winamp clone for 'nix like systems, trans.) This was an outrage. Crappy old British Christmas hits blasting out in France, in Provence no less, a land so steeped in Yuletide tradition. What has happened to the nativity plays, santons, thirteen desserts, logs soaked in mulled wine and the Coupo Santo? I decided there and then to go to the ‘Mairie’ and tell her what for. It was J Geils day, not Christmas! So indignant is as indignant does, I was hotfoot to the town hall ready to deliver a piece of mind.
I got there spot on three thirty, their eccentric afternoon opening time, only to find that for them it was only half past two. Not to worry, brass in pocket and an hour to kill, this will be time well wasted.
Ludo and Magnetto, both behind the counter were plying their one unsuspected customer with a variety of odd concoctions and weird distilations: Baking Brad Geortzy, the notorious Pizza geezer, a man in shorts who had quite clearly not been home for lunch for several days, had before him glasses of white wine and banana liqueur with a slice of gherkin, rum with carrot juice truffled with fresh badger scat and aaargh! Scotch whisky and coke.
Instead of asking for a pint of what the tramp was drinking, I ordered a snakebite. Deadpan. As soon as I had explained the ingredients and their invaluable short and long term noxious side-effects, King Ludo managed to find a bottle or two of inexpensive cider and announced that:
“the snackbeets are on ze ‘ouse.”
From the Bar de la Mairie, to Electricladyland itself is but a stone’s throw, but after a happy hour with Ludo, Magnetto and Brad, I felt like I was going transmetropolitan, reformed and with hardened determination. And when I’ve done those bastards in I’ll storm the BBC!
I swaggered resolutely into the municipal building, straight up the stairs to the imposing double doors of the boss’s office. Without hesitation I banged on them roughly.
“It’s me Melvin, and I wish to register a complaint.”
‘Melvin’s not here.”
Came the shrill reply from the hollow chamber within.
“No, it’s me Melvin, and I’m really pissed with this Christmassy music playing out there and your crappy apologies for Christmas cheer and tribulations, bloody waste of money it is. Why can’t you spend it on something useful like dishing out free beer and pizzas to the needy, or give us free WiFi or a car park?"
“Melvin’s not here!”
“No man, It’s me, Melvin, and I’m trying to tell you nicely that all your Christmas crapola is a gross extravagance, in horribly bad taste and wholly inappropriate, it’s me Melvin.
“Melvin’s not here!”
Undeterred and still on the wrong side of the door I asked her nicely; since when had plump and abominable ho ho ho men in comfortable red leisure suits been part of the Provençal Christmas tradition and what is that Tannenbaum thingy all decked out in Chinese lanterns in the village square? Aren’t there enough evergreen trees to delight you out there in the forest?....."The truth knocks and all you can say is, Melvin's not here? Shame on you. Whoah, it's the blasted sheriff his very self tapping daintily at your door and he won’t go away, and while I am about it what about all those that don’t actually do Christmas?….…..What have you got to say about The Kamels, Abdallahs, the Fatmas, the Rodneys? Huh? What about them….? Go on, you’re here to represent us all…”
“Melvin!” The bitch replied calmly, “or should I be calling you Rodney? You don’t do Christmas? Are you a flaming terrorist or wot? And by the way, you can keep your magic dick to yourself, spiceboat!”
"Come to my Christmas tree, little one," a soft but sufficient voice suddenly whispered over my head.
“Oops… Err… Rodney’s not here! You might find him getting sloshed over the road with Ludo, Magnetto and their pet duck Bradley.... But you won't find him on Facebook.......”
OF THE FREEDOM CONFERRED ON SEVERAL MISFORTUNATES WHO AGAINST THEIR WILL WERE BEING CARRIED WHERE THEY HAD NO WISH TO GO.
Well she's walking through the clouds
With a circus mind that's running round
Butterflies and zebras
And moonbeams and fairy tales
That's all she ever thinks about
Riding with the wind.
So instead of buying a small and practical white van complete with a sign-writer’s flourish of 'Allo Weed!' or 'Dial M for Nucky Balls', they had decided to invest in more productive livestock. In addition to Maurin's favourite little ass Pingu, Pingu Yarpok. The name in the Eskimo tongue means, I am assured: he (or she) who leans on someone with the intention of making them fall over. Then of course there was her famous little boy Nucky.
Two more stoner donkeys arrived one day. One, a tiny little Pooka with a squint and crooked green teeth, given to her by its previous long suffering and badly bitten proprietor. The Pooka belongs to the family of the nightmare and has most likely never appeared before in asinine form, the one or two recorded instances being probably mistakes, more than likely being mixed up with the Rick Derringer. A pooka's delight is to get a rider, whom she rushes with through ditches and rivers and over mountains, and shakes off in the gray of the morning. Especially does she love to plague a drunkard, for as we all know, a drunkard's sleep is his kingdom. My kingdom. At nightfall she will stroll boldly out into the surrounding woods, making a deeply resonant humming noise that sounds very much like Van Morrison singing Rave On John Donne, which so terrifies the wild boar that they cringe and run to the nearest man and lay their heads upon his shoulder begging for protection.
The other, pure bred and massive, Sheena, a punk rocking ass with a startlingly preened Mohican mane stood twice the Pooka's height and weight and could push over huge trees with her monstrous expansive backside and eat her way through dense thickets of spiky venomous vegetation. Collectively the four bastard donkeys were to be known as the William S. Burros. But one day a very short and terribly overweight Shetland pony who responded to the name of Dave, appeared out of the blue and wheedled his way into the pack, for less than obvious reasons, Taz renamed them “The Flying Burrito Brothers”.
great chagrin of this gang of five, three females, a
eunuch and weird Dave, Taz had insisted that they got
themselves a horse in order to lead and discipline the
“stubborn, lazy, pleasure-seeking little sods.” Well she
did get herself a pet horse and I darned well had to
deputize her. Trigger.
Even our two professionals were a little surprised at the sheer quantity of Cannabis sativa they found in the steep, dense and accessible only to those in the know woodlands. The boundaries of this little Kingdom, either in time or space, are not easy to determine, but I could never hope to better Jean Aicard’s description of them in his 1912 book “Maurin (no relation) des Maures”:
“Glorious countryside, a small range of mountains which [..] is a perfectly self-contained orographic system separated from the surrounding mountains by the wide valleys of the Aille, the Argens and the Gapeau. The Maures are, as it were, a mountainous island in the plain, an island of gneiss and schist and granite in striking contrast to the surrounding chalky landscape. The railway from Marseilles to Nice winds round it to the north and a road crosses it from end to end, having a total length of not less than fifteen leagues[..] It has a main chain and subsidiary lateral ranges and its hydro-graphic system is an identical miniature of the valleys of the great rivers of the world[..] These mountains merit the interest of a wise man not only for for their geological formation and extraordinary variety of rare flora and fauna, they are equally worthy of a visit from the ordinary tourist and lover of the countryside. Though covering an area of only eight hundred square kilometres, and having a mean altitude of not more than 300 metres.”
That was then, but this is now. A hundred years ago these woods had been a prosperous hive of woodcutting, cork-stripping and charcoal making activity but are now stupidly more or less deserted, milking tourists is far more lucrative than tending a difficult and unrequiting forest. The water system too has been badly neglected, finding its way underground rather than flowing steadily down to the rivers below. To Maurin it was his very own enormous and private Idaho, and what a splendid state it was. The guerilla weed plantations were always to be found close to a waterlogged strip of heavy clay and of course well away from any deciduous trees such as Castanea Sativa, the sweet chestnut; for cannabis in spring and autumn would stick out like Dean Moriarty’s sore thumb to the busy body trouble seeking army helicopters that frequently scoured the area. Hidden around cork oaks or within a cunning plantation of Arundo donax, giant cane, is also good camouflage that distorts heat and reflective signatures, if and when the French government save up enough cash to by infra-red equipment.
The brave burros, Dave and Trigger, half horse half faggot, could demolish and digest huge quantities of weed in half a day and be in no fit state to resent the humiliation of lugging heavy paniers of their own shit, slowly but steadily back to the ranch.
though things had changed. Steve, that unpredictable,
unstable and forever unreliable friend of mine had cast
aside his dressing gown and obscene shoes, set fire to his
makeshift home and less successfully his bicycle before
moving into the squankiest villa in Ramatuelle, complete
with its own pools, golf course, velodrome and the world's
most loved francophone Country and Western singer. I still
don't know what I would do without him though, honestly.
where do think she was living? I’ll tell you in a minute,
but first, what had changed in Taz? Had she found the love
of her life? Yes !Yes! Money, money and more filthy money.
She spent her days cutting, drying and flavouring the
special donkey drops with vanilla, lemon, cinnamon and
just about anything else she could lay her hands on, even
I regret to say, catnip. Her evenings were passed around
the bars restaurants and nightclubs, touting the stuff and
touting it well and all that at very impressive prices. I
felt that somehow I should disapprove of her career
choice, but then again it was way better than me having to
pay her way through University or her having to take on a
ridiculous lifetime of debt, and who knows? This way she
might actually learn something.
Well where was she living? I thought you’d never ask, she was aboard the Turpitude. Yes, Lozzi was back, but no Lister. Loz had finally had enough and chucked him overboard in the straits of Gibralata (sic) then hired a scruffy looking chap to bring her back to Saint-Trop’ and those scrumptious balls of donkey shit.
It was no surprise when Maurin showed up again at my door, no fake American accent this time, or moustache, just a little despondent, but lying through his teeth all the same.
“We’re worried about you Rodney,”were his first words as he came through the door.
“What do you mean, worried about me?”
“Well, that J Geils day thing with the mayor and that nonsense about Standard Collo time… You do know that she isn’t really called Birdy, or Namnam don’t you?”
Worried about me, there's a thing.
“And why Melvin? And why do you drink so much?”
“Melvin’s not here and it's all Steve's fault anyway!”
“Rod you have to listen to what I've got to say! Steve and I are genuinely concerned about you,. You live in a fantasy world officer sir, and we're going to drag you out of it, out of your jurisdiction, you shouldn’t get so involved in such trivial things as local politics. The Mayoress is a moron, everybody knows that and methinks she doesn’t protest half enough. So just forget it, we’re going on a road trip. And that’s final!”
“Look Maurin” I said unbending, but offering a seat and a cold beer all the same, which this time he didn’t refuse. “Look at me,” I said, “there’s nowt wrong wi’ me, it’s you and Steve that’s got wimmin problems, that’s why you want out, come on admit it you crafty little creep!”
“No, Rodney, Taz is really upset too, last week you spent the whole bloody evening singing ‘Her name is Birdy, she gotta head like a potato’, she really thinks you’re losing it mate.”
“Taz! Worried about me !”
"Yes Rod, worried about you, we all are. Anyone can see that head looks much more like a turnip and who would wanna have a head like that? “
evening, to console myself a little, I dined at Borello's.
To commence I called for a bottle of pink grape wine, 'La
Treille des Maures.' Then suddenly, enjoying this pale,
pasteurised plonk with a nose that could be compared
unfavourably to a stick of Yorkshire rhubarb, I noticed my
fellow diners were all reading foreign newspapers. The
only ones actually eating were unbecoming women in pairs,
well built English women with boyish faces, large teeth
and ruddy ping-pong cheeks. They attacked a top-notch wild
boar stew with genuine ardor. The specialty of the house
was this warm poacher's meat dish cooked in a rich red
wine sauce with tagliatelle au pesto, like a pie. Having
lacked appetite for many a long time, I remained amazed in
the presence of these hearty eaters whose voracity had
whetted my hunger. I ordered a soup of fish with garlic
croutons and enjoyed it heartily. I categorically refused
an intermediary mushroom omelet, but glancing at the menu
for more fish, demanded firmly a big flat gilt-head bream.
Seized with another sudden pang of hunger at the sight of these dreadful people stowing away their food, I ordered some of the famous stew and drank two quarts of draught ale. Stimulated by the beastly tang of this awful pale yellow beer, heaved through filthy pipes which had probably lain uncleaned for more than half a century, my hunger persisted. I lingered over a skilfully wrapped portion of blue Stilton-like cheese, then made quick work of a lemon meringue tart, and to vary my drinking, quenched my thirst with a Jack and Coke, that dark sickly awfulness which smells of Spanish licorice but with a much more horrible sugary taste. I breathed deeply. Not for years had I ate and drunk so much in less than twenty-five minutes and so cheaply! This change of habit, this choice of unexpected and solid food awakened my stomach from its long sleep. I leaned back in my chair, lit a cigarette and prepared to sip some coffee into which a mighty slurp of gin had been poured.
As a man who was brought up to believe that the best and only things in life were fast girls, expensive cars, and Joshua Tetley’s very fine bitter ale, it’s just too odd to think that here I am now living alone, drinking very cheap continental bottom fermented lager and driving around in a Renault 4. Not a bottom of the 1978 range I have to admit, not a basic 4L at all, but a glistening golden GTL, which had been abandoned on Main Street for ages, so I just helped myself, as they say. I put the car bit down to the fruit of maturity and good taste. As for living alone, you can think what you like. A Renault 4 will always get you home by the way and no, it is no longer for sale.
I’ve had a load of calls this week, Maurin sounding improbably concerned about me, Taz, imploring me to “lay offa ze Nucky Balls”, which to her was like having my fingers permanently in her cash register. Sometimes Steve, worried to death about my pointless rants about our lovely Lady Mayor and her special potatoes. But all of them expressing doubts about my mental elf. (Bang your head, trans.) Was I really all right, was I getting ready for the road trip, the adventure of a lifetime? I certainly was. Swimwear, towels, shampoos, sun-creams, bath toys and one change of underwear. I had of course already consumed Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Thing and familiarised myself with most of those turtle-necked tossers from the beat generation, I think. I had even tinkered with The Incredible Journey, just in case we ran into a dog or a cat or something like that. As I write, I am watching Easy Rider. Ooh, ooh and it makes me wonder!
This whole thing though, the road trip I mean, it sounds a lot more like they’re coming to take me away ha-ha hee-hee, which is peculiar, because for some time now I have had that funny feeling that I was there already. All those chirpy chirpy cheep cheep birds and basket weavers twiddling their thumbs and all in this village. Not to worry, not to worry at all, I will just play along with my foolish companions, just follow my horn and obey my whims. Smile at their seamless faces.
I shall of
course be taking the Renault, and those two can take their
pic (sic) sorry typo, from my treasured collection of some
two hundred or so Peugeot mopeds. I may as well tell you
straight, I don’t like Motobecanes, Puchs, Piaggios or Jap
Crap, I just don’t. A moped should be the perfect
reflection of its owner; stylish, temperamental and
If I said we left at dawn, day break or sun-up, it would be hard to believe. We left at half past eleven, headed for somewhere called Nazareth, or at least someplace twinned with it, just driving until we found one. I was surprised at how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility. Let’s find Nazareth, because there has to be one somewhere in this darned country, and does road-trip need a hyphen or bloody not?
The sun was well up as we screamed out west from Les Couillons, through the valley of sombre green hillsides, steaming steadily in the warm morning sun after the hard frost of the night before; heading towards motorways, traffic jams and billboards. All aboard! Tickets please! Here comes the motorcade of common sense. Yes Taz, if you’re reading this, better put on that party dress. I’ve had my last dance with Mary-Jane and sent you what was left in one of those self addressed envelopes that you so thoughtfully sent me, keep ‘em safe my little squirrel.
Steve looked rather stunning in that costly little yellow outfit I had bought for him in St Tropez, he had finished it off cleverly with an oversized and rather bloated matching corduroy cap which could more or less pass as a crash-Helmet if the police didn’t poke at him too closely. Wreckless Maurin was online shopping from top to toe, cheap but ineffably cool and leathery as he swept past me repeatedly, head down and tongue outstretched on the bends, one more treacherous than the next. Lubberly wretch, I'm sure!
It still amazes me, even after all these years. Why are Renault 4′s no longer allowed on motorways? Utterly ridiculous, the world has gone mad. It’s really no different from other cars, a little less streamlined perhaps, unrefined and a bit iffy on road holding and crumple zones I confess, but in the end it's just a box with lights on, so why those orange letters again, flashing:
“No Renault 4′s Please. Merci pour votre comprehension.”
There is no
hell, only France! (Frank Zappa, trans.)
It’s funny how quickly one can adapt to life’s wonderful aberrations and absurdities, like bread, driving on the right or smart phones. Nothing is real and nothing immediately springs to mind that is worth getting hung or fined for, so I never make too much of a fuss about it. Raspberry cordial for ever.
We strove, as we always do to find a workaround. Speeding through Pierrefeu, down the Sauvebonne, straight through Sollies Toucas, up the Gapeau valley until we finally hit the RN98. Now all that might sound like utter nonsense to you, so let’s just say we were trying to get from here to Marseille, legally, honestly and decently. Steve had somehow persuaded Maurin to introduce us both to his parents! Esther and Chester. How nice.
Then a quick bite of lunch in a town very much in need of a bypass, for everybody's sake: Belgentier.
A Relais Routier is just the thing. A monster platter of raw tinned vegetables, crudités, to start, followed by the usual blanquette de veau, Camembert, tarte aux pommes, coffee and one last miserable carafe of the cuvée du chef. Please mate, I begged him, go on, just one more mon ami! Nothing doing, the pillock even threatened to confiscate my car keys. I mean key. Actually I couldn't even be arsed to tell him that it had a push button start. You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it….
Half an hour later, cruising gently along towards the mushroon town of Signes, Steve spotted an obvious hooker by the side of the road, bold as brass, snuggled in a deck chair, shorty shorts and lots of bad leg, engrossed and confused by an oversize word puzzle book, soduko. There she was, just waiting for us to come by, sprawled and barely lifeless in a pile of Coca-Cola cans and McDonald’s wrappings. What’s wrong with fish and chips and Irn Bru Miss? Steve and Maurin pulled off the road sharpish and I slithered in sheepishly behind.
Steve unsaddled and uninhibited, demanded, “Where ya from man? How long ya been in Mexico? How much?”
I admit to being rather taken aback when Stevie-Ray came hurtling towards me demanding fifty bloody Euros.
“Hand them over and if you tell Tammy, you’re dead.”
He stared me out, over-lingering his welcome, but as a Democrat and a free-thinker, I was disposed to be lenient.
With the nifty-fifty in his pocket, before me stood a man who believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was finally about to dust his broom.
five minutes later, after some entertaining cannibal
grunts from the hillock behind the lay-by and a running
commentary on his bestiality that sounded as if he had
swallowed whole that most unwanted of Christmas presents,
a paper copy of the Urban Dictionary, back he came, his
still obvious broom done and well dusted, beaming with
satisfaction as he leaped lustily back onto his
"You see before you a perfectly happy person, Rodney," he announced. "I'm perfectly happy, yes, in spite of my hair. Just at present I have a soul above red hair."
I said as politely as I could, "I have no hard
feelings towards you, and henceforth I shall cover that
little incident with a mantle of oblivion."
That was a
pretty dignified way of speaking now wasn't it?
We were back on the road again.
We sped on at a stately 40kph straight into Marcel Pagnol country. Ah! the real Provence, barren chalky white, slightly fire damaged tenement hillsides. Aubagne, a leading candidate to host the forthcoming shopping Olympics, bathed in thin bright winter sunshine and home to the French Foreign Legion, now that doesn’t sound quite right does it? Home to the Foreign Legion? No. Absolutely not.
My beautiful winter sunshine suddenly and inexplicably turned into a wild and raging thunderstorm. This can only happen in Provence, or maybe French Lick Indiana on a Saturday night, and it happened today. I chuckled as the two in front lowered their heads to handlebar level, accelerated imperceptibly and fled, soaked immediately to the skin, towards the nearest Centre Commercial, hell bent, hell bent for Gortex.
Table tennis tables all lined up in front of the store. Arrgh! Barren and green, standard shape and size, white stripes, centre-folding all-weather and repulsive. I could see them playing, Debbie in the dinner jacket, Dave on drums right before my eyes. Nigel the nerd and George, a sharp faced boy with a broken voice, citron coloured hair and a stammer. Twenty-one fingered salutes to the lot of you. This is deliberate provocation. How could Juno know I was coming? Taunt me with a big table why don’t you? Hurt me!
The boys had somehow found another of those one-stop sporting apparel, forward slash, fancy dress shops and were in there for some time, but came back in the end with a chariot load of waterproof clothing, socks, sleeping bags, lanterns, shotguns, penknives, and….
“…Just look at these little tents Rodney, bloody amazing,” said Steve, “you should have seen the brilliant video, you can get the thing up in a jif jif , as soon as it’s out of its sheath.”
Ignoring the innuendo and lamenting the slackening intensity of the rain, I made a sign that we should be on our way.
“Load all that rubbish in the hatch, we’re off to see the bright lights, big city.”
To say that twenty minutes later we got utterly crapassed lost in Marseille city centre, would be vulgar as well as misleading and dishonest; we sailed through her, following the marvellous signposting and encouraged by hoards of well-wishers at every single traffic light, suits you sweety!
“Tickets for the match tonight Sir? Clean your windscreen mate? Fifty per cent discount on a Renault Four! Couscous to go monsieur? Qui c’est ce con-là? Hey, shitbreeches, are you doing the hat trick?”
Steve’s choice of colour scheme was more unfortunate tonight than it would have been on any other. Tonight, Olympic de Marseille were in a semi-final cup match with FC Nantes. Yes you guessed it, aka The Canaries. The mob of youth became denser and more broken-bottle waving aggressive as we approached the Stade Velodrome, which Maurin took pains to explain to Steve was just the name of the ground and football was the game. We sped on southbound towards the coast…….If their rear view mirrors were maladjusted, which I knew they were, well, lucky them. Mine were just fine and behind us I could clearly see a fierce and furious mass of sky blue and white scarves screaming murder, but we out paced them, of course we did.
Half an hour of chugging along the coast road, heading for the picturesque Norwegian blue Calanques, it was nearly dusk, and in a thick and unexpected fog we began the hors categorie climb to Maurin’s family seat. To be frank, the the three of us only just made it, the Four was in first for most of the way, In fact I even thought about taking it in reverse, crank it down a notch. The mopeds struggled, can’t deny it, so lucky they are pedal assisted vehicles, but crumbs, it was worth it. The property was set in landscaped gardens of over 16 hectares and consisted of a main mansion, an independent villa, a guest house and extremely luxurious staff accommodation. All of the living space had been renovated to an exceptionally high standard by the current owners and retained many original features. It was built in the Provencal style, yet incorporated all the comforts of modern living. This property includes a large swimming pool, a billiard room complete with bar area, a tennis court and a private golf course. I later discovered a fully fitted family kitchen, a formal dining room with feature vaulted ceiling and a gymnasium.
Parked in the driveway was quite a fleet of most unusual cars: a common or garden Nissan Entrail of course, then what looked to me in the misty failing light like a 1962 Dodge Veg-e-Matic and last but least, a horrible little Smart for two. This thing would not remain unscathed during my hopefully brief stay here. Me and my Sharpie will see to that.
To my surprise Maurin actually knocked at his own front door; I had always thought of him more as a died in the wool back door man. But no, there he stood clumsily trying to place himself between us and a pretentious crappy looking brass plaque which read: ‘Doctor Chester and Diva Esther Burnett and leur fils Eric.’
The door was almost instantly opened by a very pleasant and appealing woman of a certain age, dressed in a short black dress, a dainty little white apron and a jaunty leopard-skin politburo hat. Forty-five to fifty years of age, to hazard a guess. She immediately and thoroughly embraced Maurin, murmuring words of obvious idolatry.
“Your Mother, I presume Maurin? “
“His mother my fulsome backside!”
Came the sweet, brittle but rather well tempered voice from a lady in white satin, that old E minor thing again. She was British and of course drunk, very drunk, skulking, glass in hand a little further back in the hallway. .
“That odious creature is called Denise and she’s from Astrakhan don’t you know, she was Eric’s wet nurse for more years than I care to remember, now she attends to my husband…. Eric! Is that you Eric? Eric my darling, how lovely to see you, and who is your handsome friend?”
I could tell straight away that she had taken a strong fancy to me.
“Steve” said Maurin, “This is Steve, my very good friend Steve O’Milbona. He’s a cyclist, you know mummy, Tour de France, professional jobby”.
So there I was, arsy yarsy with no certificate.
“Oh my dear fellow!” She said outstretching the pale and plumpish hand that was not holding a drink.
This will not be over until the fat lady has said her piece. And she will. "All this doping druggy nonsense in your business; such a travesty that you always get caught and punished in the end. What ever is wrong with taking drugs? No good? No bueno? You should have been an artist you know young man. Performance enhancers are de rigueur in my line of work. And who may I ask is this bearded little pimp with his hair all gassed back, Willy Nelson?" She went on without a break, referring of course to me.
“Please mama, no need to be quite that rude.”
I was fully expecting him to say 'let me introduce you to Don Sugarcube Harris, the lead singer of Slipknot,' or 'do excuse me dear mother but he his half a man and half a biscuit' or something else equally fatuous and unnecessary, but no, his little trademark niceties were evidently reserved for French people.
“Rodney Skirvishely mum, a good mate of mine, lives in the Var, too.”
at me harshly.
“Skir vishe lee? An anapaest without embroidery.” So pretentious, but her pitiful look said so much more.
At last I squeezed a word in. “Eric? What do you mean Eric? he’s called Maurin”.
“No, Monsieur Skirvishely, he is Eric. Do you not read French very well? All my sons are called Eric”.
“Could you show me the way to Saint Louis too, while you are about it Madame?”
Eric’s father was quite another kettle of fish: scaly, cold and looking about ten past dead.
said young Eric with obvious provocation. “May I introduce
to you my lover, Stevie-Ray Milbona, two dystics!…..Ah ha!
I thought you’d be surprised!”
In the few months that I had known him, Eric had always had this rather special way of introducing me: Houston Boines the fourth tenor, Alphonse the Pope’s favourite nephew, or as I will always be known to his cronies in the St Tropez whisky bars, both Justerini and Brooks. Tonight though he really excelled himself.
“Dad, meet Rodney Carrington, former prime minister of Ruritania.”
A light suddenly flashed in dada’s fishy glass eyes and as he approached he suddenly grabbed my hand. “Rodney? Rodney of the bloodless coup fame, is it really you?”
the bloody bloodless coup that’s right.” I was inured.
Then he sort of clutched mine with both his hands and looked me square in the eye.
“You are so right! A bloody coup it would have surely been.” He managed to say it slowly and distinctly, yet somehow to wink furiously at the same time. “If it had not been for the Corps Diplomatique Francais….”
“Yes, sir, a little French duplicity cleans a big, big carpet,” I replied honestly. “Had it not been for your timely intervention, I think I really would have married that darned pick-up truck.”
“Ah Rodney,” he gazed at me with that loving feeling. “By golly, mon cher ami. If there is anything, anything at all I can do for you just let me know………”
despicable opportunist that I can be on occasions. “There
are in fact one or two things you could do for me if you
feel that way inclined. You could ask your mate the
Minister of culture to nominate a few tribute, celebration
days: Wild Man Fischer day would be a corker, Trout Mask
Replica day perhaps, that happens to fall on my birthday.
Are you familiar with the works of the good Captain
Beefheart, Sir? Well, no matter, let's try Blue Cheer or
why not Knut Hamsun Day? Something to appeal to the
starving unemployed, and all the artistically bent
creatures that abound in this land, if you pursue the
target of my observations?”I
'Yes ! I
do, I do, good Sir Rodney and I will, I will! Why not
Howlin’ Wolf day too, twice a year and a brass statue or
two on the old port. Will that do ya?"
positively astounded by the promptitude of this 'Yes.'
gentlemen — I trust there are no transvestites present –
let's discuss all this over dinner.”
Chester wrapped one arm warmly on my shoulders. "Knutty Hamsun and the Blue Flames, what a marvelous suggestion Rodney , I will give your idea much and meaningful thought."
The Astrakhani nanny announced on cue that dinner was indeed served but it was promptly postponed by Esther:
“What about some more bleedin’ aperitifs?” She demanded. "Drinks!"
“No, dinner it is.” Said Mr Burnett softly but bitterly. “The lady of the house has tippled one whisky, one Bourbon and one beer too many and now she must have her fishy on her little dishy, but don’t worry boys, you shall have free rein on my exceptional wine cellar.”
"Denise has been a servant in this house for many a long year." Burnett droned on "She is short stout and rather jovial , and is known throughout the countryside as a model servant. She always asks:
monsieur pleased? Has monsieur received good news?"
"Why are you cross-examining me?" I often reply, but when I present her with her pay cheque she turns horribly red."
With a shade of reverence in his voice, Burnett was scanning me and my attire with a sort of admiring compassion.
Well, Brad, what was for supper?
interesting, but I won’t disturb you with details, just
small and rather elegant portions, one tiny spoonful of
stuff after another, stuff that I guessed had been picked
up on the beach the day before or found in a rock pool in
the early hours of this morning. Cripes but what a
garnish! Men long for baked beans. He wasn’t joking about
the wine either. From Mali to Monaco, then Fulham,
Bordeaux, court case and obscurity. Château Jean Tigana
lives on; red, white and pink from just down the road in
Cassis. The three of us were offered half a litre each of
what Michel Platini drinks and like the man himself, we
slaked our thirsts with horrible gulpings. Cheers to you
Michel. Let's play the beautiful game in the summer, not
when it's beastly cold and pissing it down; let's ban
physical contact, simulation and those horrid sliding
tackles. Rid your noble sport of racist remarks and men
dressed up as bananas; get rid of all those overspending
British clubs from European cups...Take a rain soaked
leather one on the nose, you simpering Nancy boy. Give him
a nice cold shower!
Dinner conversation turned out to be much easier than I had expected. We spoke at length about Esther’s nose job, the conversation then drifted quite pleasantly into nude disintegrating parachutists, those frightful floods in Texas and of course in this type of company, the Taxman. Stevie-Ray was inexplicably polite, he hoped that they were all enjoying their holiday and made quite a point of saying how nice he was finding Juarez at this time of year.
definitely prefer Steve in his "did you know?" Or,
"studies have shown" mode, after a drink and exclusively
for our amusement, he expanded on his ever growing list of
things that he just didn’t understand: thunderstorms, the
offside rule in soccer, who invited Sha Na Na to play
Woodstock? Incroyable. Then Opera. In what I took to be an
altogether belligerent and nasty dig at Eric’s fatty of a
mother. I abruptly halted her heaving ire by protesting
that the Opera was he was alluding to was just a harmless
Scandinavian web browser and I could not make head nor
tail of it either. Closed source.
“What would you do with a dot torrent file in Opera madam?”
That shut her up. The choir bird that can sing but won’t.
“A thunderstorm, my friend,” said the wise and wonderful Chetser Burnett, as if anyone cared. “Is a form of turbulent typewriting, characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the earth’s atmosphere is known as thunder. The meteorologically assigned cloud type associated with the thunderstorm is the cumulonimbus……”
Steve had obviously taken a dislike to these people, less immediate than my own, but that’s Steve for you. He had decided now to play a distinctly out of character Mister Rude.
everybody knows that, Doctor dork, but why and how do they
don't know that, nobody does! Jeder macht eine kleine
Chester, politician and diplomat had in a blink, outsmarted him.
justifiably embarrassed. Steve took umbridge, a huge piece
of cheese, then flight. Broke like the wind.
“Bonjour!” He lied.
Steve had lived, worked, trained and raced so much in this country for so long, that he had inadvertently learned the word Bonjour. How many times had I tried to tell him how much better it was to say hello when you entered the room, rather than when leaving? Bonjour remains to him good day, have a good day, or sometimes with a little intonational jiggery-pokery, did you have a good day? Tonight he just disappeared."Chester?" I said as clearly as I could muster, "Chester?"
Chester was still there, he had refrained from chasing
after Steve in the fog.
“Well, if we’re all good for those special days, I’ll fax you a full list with dates and what-not in the morning, but there is just one more little thing you could do for me, it’s about this ridiculous energy saving time that you lot impose on us. Everybody knows it’s a load of crap, couldn’t you just scrap it and stay on something like Greenwich Mean Time, or Unix time all the year round?”
Chester looked at me like a Frenchman preparing a lie, just a common or garden Frenchman then, now I come to think about it, and said:
“Now that is an original idea Rodney, will you allow me, your Excellency?" asked Monsieur Chester Burnett, holding a bottle respectfully in his hands and preparing to pour from it into his Excellency's glass. "I will of course give this matter my full and due consideration.”
I think we all know what that means. Eric and I decided to nip out for a few beers; Chester kindly offered the loan of the smallest car we could find in the car park, presumably hoping that us driving around drunk on this filthy night would kill off three birds with one stone. Two dystics my arse Eric. Asshole!
I was a bit worried about Steve though, I had a sneaking feeling that he’d be out nicking bikes, swiping them, that’s what he did when he was upset or drunk, or both. Keep stealing them, one more expensive than the next, until he got a Phanuel Krencker de Luxe Bicyclette or better still a Trek Yoshitomo Nara Speed Concept, something in the 200,000 Euro bracket at least. We didn’t find Steve, nowhere to be seen thank God, just found a fantabulous bar by the name of "The Maureva" A village cocktail bar and lingerie fashion showroom, trendy like you could never imagine and all trussed up like a luxury yacht, all Armani, Armagnac and beers you could stake your life on.
A few beers turned into quite a few more after Eric had the brilliant idea of telling everyone in the bar that behind my beard and effete southern accent, lay in fact a hero. Tonight I was the last remaining Chris Waddle in captivity!
“Go on mate tell them about that about that brilliant goal you scored against those food poisoned Poles in 1990.”
“Why man, I just kicked the ball, like, you know, with me foot like, and blimey, there it were in the back of the net!”
Somehow we did manage to get back safely. The four of us here in reception one having a little chat with Bob Wilson and Jacqui Oatley. Who brought them home? It can’t possibly have been me and Eric in the Smart For Two pieces of crap, could it?
Then Steve, looking sober as a goat lying in wait. I was rather pleased to see him, relieved really as you might imagine. He seemed quite clean, but bottled up with anger, a controlled rage that I had never seen before. He was horribly calm as he grabbed Eric, pinned the poor drunken sot down with one hand and confronted him with first his fist and then his fucking problem.
“In my absence someone has been reading my text books!”
All this was forgotten the next morning though as Steve found himself covered almost from head to toe, as far as I could make out as a casual observer, in vile bluish green and purple boils with some nasty throbbing succulence of quite another kind. Was it the sea food or the cuisse de pute a l’orange he had taken by the wayside? Nobody will ever know. Not even the doctor of the house.
“Tell me Steve, does it hurt when you pee?”
“Fuck off! I don’t want no piss prophet doctor sticking needles in me.”
Chester was rebuffed.
“Well, A raw onion last thing at night would certainly be of great benefit to your complexion. Barang!”
We were getting our things together when the front doorbell rang. Steve raced off to answer it just to see what effect his new look would have on a stranger. He had plenty of time to savour the words, make a witty remark as the two estrangers, dressed in blue, the municipal police, just stood there staring blankly at him.
Steve stared back at them, puss dripping down wherever they dared to look, and with a few less cogs than I remembered, he asked them sweetly:
“Is it about a bicycle?”
OF THE PLEASANT DISCOURSE THAT PASSED
BETWEEN ERIC AND MANY A BLACKBIRD.
I’ve been thinking
for some time now that Steve finally, inevitably, was
heading for a breakdown, but he had neither a compulsory
French Government approved breath-tester or even a
yellow fluorescent vest on board, In fact he did have
several of those. Maybe in utmost secrecy he had renewed
an interest in Bow Street triple distilled barley water,
but he had definitely lost interest in all those
improbable things he once so yearned to understand. Eric
would have been more than happy to explain that off-side
thing, and I could easily have cleared up his problem
with Sha Na Na, but he just didn’t seem to care. I don’t
know what I want but I want it now! Steve in a nutshell.
here’s the thing amigo: roadside copulation or riding a
moped without suitable protective equipment, shopping.
It all adds up, you’re turning into a regular food hall
Richard. I just can’t stress this any more Steve, a
moped is not a toy. Just like an electric toaster, a
tent peg, or a parasol, there are multilingual
instructions for use and safety precautions . They can
all cause serious injury and possible death. So
please Steve, read this fine manual!
Then there were all those things that he has always wanted to do too, as if he was trying to say, “Before I die.” So strange really; I happen to know for a fact that one of his lifetime’s ambitions was to look a police officer square in the eye and say, as if he really meant it, “fuck off you fat piece of shit.” In all fairness any honest and right thinking fellow harbours the same fantasy. But what does poor Steve do? Smiles at them meekly and asks if it was about a ruddy bicycle! What exactly is wrong with you Steve?
So when he said to me over a breakfast of beer and hot cross buns overlooking the bustling 'Vieux Port’ of Marseille: ”Look Rodney, before I die I need to hold up a liquor store.” I was certain.
“There are no liquor stores, per se, in this country Steve.”
“Oh my giddy aunt, what about starting a wild fire or something then Percy old fellow?”
Eric who turned out to be quite the expert at successfully starting forest fires pitched in infuriatingly:
“Great idea Steve, I love fires, we could try it the Italian way; douse a cat in sour mash, set fire to the little blighter and you’re done. Run fat-boy run. Works every time, and you’ll never get caught.”
I was shocked by his propos, Steve was enthralled, “Would it work the same with a pooko?”
“Sure, Steve. Welsh terriers work the best though.”
“It’s Saint Sylvester’s day, ’tis raining pookos and pokos and there’s naught but the odd bare tree to burn my dear.”
Steve hardly seemed to understand what I was saying to him, poor old chump.
“Just get back on your bike Stevie and enjoy life a bit, you’re not really dying old friend, and really, you don’t have to work on Lance’s farm no more.”
“Let’s just smoke some crack then, have a hot little bitch of a curry then go kill someone. I’m bored! Yass! Yass!…..Just look at me Rodney, foul boily and disfigurated, no better time than now to go back and booglarize that nasty old bugger, stuff an onion up his ass in broad daylight, then lay low for a couple of weeks for the sake of my complexion. Then fat Esther will be culled by false witness. How clever is that?”
“Not very Steve, a boily man is just delectable pustulence, and “old bugger” Chester, I might remind you, is your boyfriend’s father and France’s third most important asshole. This is going to be another disaster, just like the other one. Lay low puss puss, then I’ll buy you some new clothes to cheer you up.”
”We’re not in Fashion Valley, Rodney, this is The Bouches du Rhone and I’m going to do it anyway.”
Trundling up north I thought, yes Steve, of course you are. C’est cela, oui! Pinking up through well hung Aix, creeping through lowly Salon en Provence and on to Cantaloupe County Cavaillon, I got to thinking, this is loike the blind leading the blind loike, and you’d be amazed how we stumbled. This whole excursion routière thing was never my idea and at the next stop words will be had with Eric. The next stop was neither a wayside inn nor even a greasy spoon café. Just about everything was, for reasons unthinkable, kept really nice and greasy. Booze and tobacco aplenty thank the lord; betting shop and Ristorante. Outside was a curiously asymmetrical, misaligned, no, let’s get real, badly parked set of four white Citroen C15s each with a wailing doggy or two caged in the back. We had arrived. Deep Shit Arkansas .
saviez-vous? The French do not have a proper word for
conversation. A conference or debate, to be formal. A
dialogue perhaps. Babillage or straightforward
confabulation, but a quiet chat? No never, not here,
given the size of of the flat screen television. We
dwelt a little while on the threshold, their eyes were
glued, the volume turned high.
room fell quite silent as we finally entered and the
screen went blank. The three of us just stood and stared
but for once, in his condition Steve was not immediately
recognized. He still looked terrible, his purulent
disfiguration was grotesque but he looked to me like the
cutest guy in town as I eyed up the other patrons. Four
separate men smoking yellowed maize paper cigarettes;
five tables and a bartender, a cretinous pale-faced Caid
with his head wrapped in newspaper. This was not the
Jolly Cricketers, not by an innings or a long chalk.
In the immortal words of Paddy Flaherty, “The drinks are on me” I blurted spontaneously, in the name of self preservation, not charity…. “It's Paddy's round!” Eric obligingly translated. We were shown with rapturous applause to the vacant table and listened with interest to the loutish obesity present. As the cretin prepared our coffee and shots, conversation à la Françoise resumed, mostly concerning hogs, hares, blackbirds and jays, accompanied by the slamming of affirmative glasses on the table. Apperitivos they call them; the only thing strong alcohol gives me is a taste for more of the same.
Steve demanded potato chips.
“Certainly Sir! Horse and Onion, Snail and Vinegar, or plain Goat?”
“A magpie in a spicy sauce ain’t a bad meal for a modest man such as moiself” Bang!
“Golly, whatten plonket’s yon guy in’t sou’wester ?" Bang bang!
“What think’st thou about mixed bathing?" Bang.
Eric looked a bit glum. Bah humbug.
"Cheer up mate." I said hopelessly, "they could have called you Keith or Kelvin. there’s always someone worse off than what you is."
“Rolling up dog ends ain’t a bad smoke for a piss poor fellow as me! Ha! Ha!" Bang!
I began to feel uncomfortable as one fine and very stout fellow that looked as if he had wacked a mole and stolen his face was staring at me. Yes me, began:
“If it’s blackbirds you’re after lads,” sneer, sneer, “you have to be off well before daylight and head for the woods. Settle down and watch the sky over in the east and see it grow gradually from white to rosy-red. The day has broken, that’s the time for blackbirds.”
Then he actually took a whistle from his pocket, a little round tin box with a hole right through the middle, pressed it to his flaming lips and began to blow.
”Stop!” Eric shouted disdainfully after half a dozen or so notes, looking the fat frog in the face.
“Does your ear tell you nothing Constable Cloth?”
my amazement he produced quite a different instrument
made from what looked like a fragment of crayfish or
lobster claw from his own vast leather satchel, and took
his turn at imitating a blackbird. He repeated the same
notes on his odd little pipe then stopped again suddenly
”Well did you catch the false note that time dufus?”
taking the piss?”
What the fat man actually boomed in fury was: “Too te mock de moi connar?” (all one word).
“Did you know? January 1st 1970 fell on a Thursday.” Steve conciliatory.
“Not just now Steve, and why the hell aren’t you in uniform?”
"You heard nothing at all?” Eric continued, "believe me Jungle Faced Jake, if you’d been a real blackbird, you’d have buggered off sharpish.”
audience was beginning to get very seriously narked.
“Taking ze pisse are we?”
Says Eric in the proper Provencal manner .
The fat man was in the bathtub now; with the blues, but there was no stopping fearless young Eric...“So here we are waiting for blackbirds are we?” “Look out! There's one up in those branches standing out black against the sky just beginning to brighten a little. You go on whistling. . . . There’s another, two ! . . . three ! The sky’s getting much clearer now and you can see them better as they settle. Il v’ien pui un momein oii vous etes couver de merles.”
My little half French Friend was in a sort of trance, convinced for some reason that he was all covered in blackbirds .
”Now, I pick up my gun, very quietly! Get two in a line, three if you can, imagine that your gun is a spit. . . . It’s a difficult shot, because they keep hopping from one branch to another; but if you get two or three in line you shoot. Wallop. ….Back of the net!”
dead, long live Maurin. But we’re not out of the woods
yet, let alone the Auberge…("The Blackbird or merle, is
seen here but rarely." Gary Macallister in his
inimitable "History of the Mouth of the Rhone,"
published in 1857, trans.)
Another man from Scotland once said to me in all Scottish seriousness whilst brandishing a fearsome knife, “Are you a fucking Leeds supporter Jimmy?” I have been punched in various places by many a young man from the north of England and the potteries and have a season ticket to the Arsenal Emirates which I only use on Sundays. So when the fat guy, humiliated, turned his head and looked at me over his shoulder said with emphasis:
to keep them on," I was quite taken aback.
only then that I noticed he was wearing large hexagonal
spectacles equipped with warning triangles, and had a
bushy beardy beard that completely hid his cheeks and
face. Suddenly he removed the beer-goggles with a
violent gesture and began to tear at his beards and
sideburns. For a moment they resisted him, then everyone
in the bar gasped. His eye! a glass eye, perfectly round
and rather pinkish rolled onto the table and bounced
down to the floor. and bbbbbbounced furiously like an
errant billiard ball on the hard tiled floor. As he
removed the glasses a flash of horrible
anticipation passed through the bar.
Dieu!" said some one at last.
not a man at all. It's just dirty clothes. Look! You can
see down his collar to the staining of his pants."
“Vous êtes supporteur de Paris Saint Germain?" Jake went on, quite ignoring his mishap.
“Non!” Said I, whirling an imaginary rattle.
“Blue is the colour, football is the game. We’re all together, and winning is our aim. So cheer us on through the sun and rain ’cause Chelsea, Chelsea is our name….”
Chelseee!…. pedophile!” He raged.
I had been rumbled, but I took all this simply to be a suitable expression of his chagrin that all Marseille's best players end up at Chelsea and daggers were drawn once again.
“He no ordinaire Inghlese, he Tony Cascarino.” Eric to the rescue.
So the geometry exam was over and now I am the greatest fake Irish footballer who has ever played, for Olympique de Marseille or anyone else. This was a match winner if ever there was one. Beer, Birra...Long ball to Cerveza out on the left, crosses to Piwo, it's a floater, in comes Cascarino on a trampoline. Gooooal! I don’t want to comment on the official’s performance, but he had a shocker today.
Drinks on the house! Suddenly everybody loves me, again.
“Imbeurrado il oii cuilo!” Cried Eric, triumphant.
“Butter my arse!” I whispered to Steve who took it to be a weird but not altogether unsavoury request for him to do so and not the simultaneous translation of, sadly, the only Provençal expression I know.
I couldn’t even remember if Cascarino was Irish, Italian or Cockney, so I just said 'Hello dare, gor blimey, shut uppa yer face' which appeared to give complete satisfaction. I realised why Erik the red only played this shit on Frenchies, it was so easy! They fell for it every time. Why would anyone want to lie to them?
"Shall I put my white beads on? " I was feeling so good, hard to believe this stuff isn’t really butter.
“Steve? Steve!” Eric disgusted.
As you probably know all roads lead to Rome if you happen to be in Italy, but in this country all Routes Nationales, if you keep away from motorways, Ha! Ha! Lead to La Ferté Bernard. What you probably don’t know is that a Peugeot 103 moped will fit nicely in the back of a Citroen C15, provided you let the pookos out first, which we did.
I’m never sure whether it’s Renault, Citroen or Nissan that is Dutch for lemon, and at this moment I no longer care. We are back on the road, a Renault 4 in a C15 sandwich. Delicious.
IN WHICH IS RELATED THE UNFORTUNATE ADVENTURE THAT RODNEY FELL IN WITH WHEN HE FELL OUT WITH CERTAIN HEARTLESS GENDARMIENS.
The kooky Citroen C15 embodies everything that people love and hate about the French. As with the 2CV car, this van is as French as garlic and snails and looks like it might tip over at any minute while negotiating bends. But for all its faults it has many plus points too. For starters it undercuts every other van on the market on price and its 1.9-litre diesel power plant should prove economical and long-lasting. Not my words Susan, the words of Der schone Auto Mag, give or take.. Hello?
I pulled in at a convenient aire de repos, stand up toilets and sit down picnic tables. Eric was right behind, but we had to flag Steve down a couple of minutes later, he had been distracted by the sound system in his new car and had been listening for nearly an hour to the sensational sounds of Claude François on, would you believe? Magnetic tape. Cartridges not even cassettes, that machine must be worth a bomb.
“Le Lundi Au Soleil,
Les magnolias, bloody good stuff actually
Steve enthused, unwittingly
swigging neat vodka from a plastic water bottle he had
presumably found in the back of the van,
”and did you know…?”
In fact I did know that one of Funky Claude's other oeuvres, Comme d’Habitude was the prototype for Sinatra's sententious My Way. I will always revere Sid Vicious’s version though. Have to admit.
Steve hopped out of his
little box on tyres, casually looking round for legover,
he didn’t seem all that bothered by the lack of it, the
revelation that stealing cars was perfectly legal in
this country was all the stimulation he needed for the
We sat ourselves down at one
of those hideously designed and scrupulously
uncomfortable bench-tables; Eric produced a quart of
Bubbly Jock and three wooden tumblers from that huge
leather bag. Fully packed it weighed nearly forty pounds
and contained all that real French men could reasonably
need, among other things: a dozen cloves of garlic,
renewed weekly. Two baguettes and a litre of red wine, a
hollow reed of salt and any number of little pill boxes
and medical prescriptions. Then that flask of whiskey
and many a drinking-cup carved out of briar-roots. Two
packets of Gitane cigarettes, a couple of condoms and a
lighter, a Swiss army knife in a leather sheath. Three
telephones, a pair of extra espadrilles and half a hide
of goat-skin leather for patching clothes. Two combs, a
hogs hair brush and a bottle of Petrole Hahn (vert). A
little tin pan for cooking eggs and sauces, then a well
thumbed copy of Napoleon's Code Civil. A tight wad of
the previous five years' electricity bills, his father's
will, driver's licence, some fetching pictures of Lily
and a certificate to prove that he was not dead. Last
but not least, a huge and stinking whole Camembert
cheese. He was always proud to show this particular item
to anyone who seemed interested, and although it did not
at first sight appear to be of any practical use, Maurin
considered it to be something of a life-saver.
We drank for a while in
“Right,” said Eric at last, “It’s New Years Day, neither of you two have made your resolutions and we have no idea of where we will be laying our drunken heads tonight.”
The resolution part was
easy, I suggested that this year we should abstain from
drinking beer. Touch not a drop. They both looked at me
as if I had just admitted I had a proposed a
suicide pact or had a brother-in-law from Liverpool,
"What's you're problem with
beer Rod?" They said as one.
“My problem with beer is that just after I posted that article last year, you know, about beer, Bono and BSD , well, just after it was published, the French Government decided to put a huge, no whopping great tax on the damned stuff. Twenty-five percent! I know it’s all my fault but I say boycott beer, teach them a ruddy lesson.”
“Motion passed,” said Eric.”We shall deem it necessary to cease and desist without let or hindrance the intentional libation of beer like substances, under the terms and conditions laid down by our friend Rodney, Is that clear Steve?”
Egged on by this little
victory, I took up the drunken headed problem and boldly
suggested that in view of the unseasonally clement
weather we should camp out for the night, we still had
all that gear they had bought in that dreadful store in
Aubagne in the back of the Four.
"Objection!" Eric the
self-annointed legal beagle was vehement. "There is a
proverb which says: windy Avignon, pest-ridden when
there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is. The
Vaucluse is not a good place to pitch a tent."
Sometimes a simple question can come as a shock, shake you up a bit and rattle you, even if it is not a complete life changer. Steve asked me if it really was New Year's Day, then what had happened to New Year's Eve and Christmas too, now he was on the subject? Do you know? I was lost for words.
We were cruising towards Avignon, the city of Popes, a classified World Heritage site, a showcase of arts and culture and oh how they danced! Two and a half men in two stolen C15′s and a Renault 4. My only fear was another attack of Florence syndrome, too much beauty all in one go could seriously give me the whirligigs.
Silly me, the episcopal ensemble began with the lonely Industrial Zone; builders yards, Datsun dealers and Lafarge, then changed almost imperceptibly into the Commercial Zone. The usual collection of scorched earth and aluminium pet food superstores and fast food joints, both of who's offerings may or may not contain traces of meat. A Decathlon of course and Billy Bunter and his chums walking the walk. Then, for my part, listening as ever to The Flamin' Groovies, we entered what the French simply call La Zone.
and dirty blocks of flats with burnt out car carcasses
and stripped down scooters draped boldly outside.
Gloomystone edifices to make Edinburgh look exotic and
gay! Dwelling places euphemistically referred to as
habitations at a modest rent. Affordable homes. It made
me think of how Streslau must look today or Belgrade in
the 1960′s. At every street corner were beggars,
mendicants, paupers, whatever you call them, loiterers
to be sure. Some with rough cut cardboard - I’m
homeless, four kids and not a hope in hell of finding a
job - signs hung from their necks. Others, swarthy pocky
marky eastern European or Turkish types; a cheeky one I
even saw banging on the side of Steve’s van up ahead.
(The European C15 model does in fact have side panel
“Nanni bee chagge nistromdali!” I clearly heard him say. Give me money bastard, if my memory serves me well.
Bearded women too in copious shrouds pushing heavily
laden shopping trolleys, aye that's the word, laden to
death with all their worldly goods; kids, urchins of
every hue, running about noisily in expensive looking
trainers and dubious haircuts. The cynic in me would
have said good for you, at least you have the freedom to
live such a simple life, but it was just too depressing
To my great relief I spotted a sign – Camping Auberge La Fagotelle - open all year, barrang! What a cracking little campingplatz it was too and how surprising it was to find that it really was open. I found no whiffle of pestilence, no chortling wind.
We upped our tents in less than a jiffy, they just sort of jumped out of their little bags and set themselves together like magic. After a few deftly thumped in pegs and a little tweaking of guy ropes we were, as they say, done. Oh how this fresh air and wholesome exercise had given me an appetite. The Auberge part was well and truly closed and battened down, so we zipped up tight, checked and double checked the vehicles and strolled off to refresh the town.
is the French National dish? Gritty snails in buttery
garlic grease and parsley or a fry-up of poor little
leggies of froggies? What's for tea Mummy? Force
fattened goose liver on toast darlings and a raw mollusc
with a slice of pig's blood sausage for afters. Yum yum.
No, no! France has moved on, what they really skip and dance for today is plain meat and a spud bud like everyone else. French children notwithstanding their inability to string a coherent sentence together before puberty are not so very different from their British or American cousins, they are raised to grow big and strong on jambon-purée, ham and mashed potatoes. The less fortunate variety are comforted with pasta and ketchup, (no kidding), but to be fair it does say Sauce Tomate on the bottle, don’t blame them, blame Heinz. The lucky ones who do grow up straight and tall will all have a built in preference for steack (sic) frites. We ordered three steak and chips with the options for the meat given as blue, bloody or properly cooked. I think you can guess which one we took, and a side order of a bottle of Côtes du Rhône apiece, as we were actually dining in an empty restaurant, smack dab on the banks of that self same mighty river.
of the rest of the evening was spent seeking out a bar
that seemed to be open. Almost on the point of giving
up, we eventually stumbled into a bar de La Poste, de La
Gare, du Pont or some such, a sawdust and spit
establishment that was open for business even if it
wasn’t exactly booming, but we definitely fancied our
chances of being served with a well earned drink or two
here. The only other customer was a badly dressed faggot
in a thick cloud of illicit tobacco smoke, propping up
the bar, coughing and swearing alternately. Swearing
rather nastily I thought, just reciting the old
favourites; bordel, merde, putain, connasse. He
continued to swear without that breadth and variety that
distinguishes the swearing of a cultivated man. It grew
to a climax, diminished again, and died away in the
distance. I watched him carefully for a moment, a lonely
desperate, tragic figure of a man, and my heart went out
to him; how desprately hard life must be with only one
imaginary friend! Then I noticed, he was on the ‘phone.
Whisky was the obvious choice and the easiest to pronounce.
“Twar visskee seal vou play garsson”. Trying to sound even more like a British twat. I don’t know why I said it that way, but I did. Had a feeling.
“Scotch, Irish or Kentucky lads? A double a baby or foetus? And what kind of glasses?”
“Clean ones, if you don’t mind, and you’re from Norwich aren’t you?”
” I am sir.” He said without a wisp of surprise, as he served three very generous portions of Johnny Jameson and sons’ finest.
“Then perhaps you could tell us why this town is so dismally deserted on this public holiday of a day, if you really are from Norwich, as lots of people are.”
The big man in a yellow tee-shirt and green shorts seemed ready to talk, looked straight at me and said: ” Have you any Idea what France did last night?
”I hope so, sir; but I've
got my instructions."
“Well I’ll give you a hint, it ate a lot, a hell of a lot, and didn’t stop eating and drinking until the early hours of this morning. It ate and drank so much that it ended up with a painful attack of the national imaginary ailment, a crise de foie, a liver attack. That’s why there are no froggies abroad tonight, just me and Sir Henry."
Motioning towards the shabby faggot.
“A crise de foi if you ask me chaps, a real onion souper! Sir Henry Blodwyn-Pigge, Bishop of Bridlington,” he said offering a hand, “jolly pleased to meet you fellars.”
“So now you know why we left my parents’ place in such a hurry, Rodney”
“I just thought we had been TTFO.”
We stayed for a few more
triple distilled smoothies at Sir Henry’s expense,
but it was all getting a bit too French for me. Getting
drunk three times in one day was a younger man’s
exploit. Just for a laugh I tried at least twice
to pass Eric on them as Eric Di Meco, Avignon's
most famous left back, but all I got were rum looks,
Eric Di who? So we finally took our leave and left for
We were awoked most horribly the following morning, not by an angry Lou Mistral, but by two more coppers. Two Gendarmes in heavy shades, the tops of their ears slightly downy, but nicely groomed slapped our Tipperary homes disagreeably, shouting: “sortay! sortay vous and be sharp about it!”
Like stranger’s thumbs or swollen feet they just stood there, rigid and resolved as I emerged fearlessly from my cosy hole. Somehow, this time, I knew my days as a free man were numbered. I was relieved to hear that Steve still snoring and not about to finally fulfil a lifetime’s ambition. Gag him with a spoon? I would. I would.
“Is it about a C15?” My pre-emptive strike.
“It is not,” said the one.
“It is about two,” said the
“Plural. Two pristine examples of la différence Francaise, purloined and usurped, if you will permit us the expression, under our very noses, outside a bordello of our connivance in God’s own city of Cavaillon this very good yestermorning”!
Just about then, Eric leaped out at us still in his sleeping bag screaming: “Thank the living daddyfathers! You’re here at last. Have you caught the rotters yet?”
“To which particular breed of rotter are you referring, odd fellow? There are many more than several of those types on today’s agenda.”
“Why the scoundrels that left those horrid vans over there and told us that if we breathed one word we’d get two more…!”
“Stop your blithercorn, fool in a bag. We have in our possession faxed facsimiles of you three personages, top notch thievery and lobryd van rustling, proven beyond magnanimous doubt. It’s fines, beatings and custodial sentences ago-go coming your way. Ha! Ha!”
This was outrageous.
”Do we look like the sort of
men that go about the country stealing other chap’s vans
and letting their pookos out?” I said so pompously, that
I was not even aware of my gaffe concerning the dogs.
"Yes sirs, indeed you do. In
fact we would say you were the very paradigme (sic) of
I have read somewhere that
anyone who uses the word paradigm with no knowledge of
what the dictionary says it means, should be sent to bed
without his supper, or shot, no exceptions. But I didn’t
say it, because they had now abruptly turned all their
attentions in the direction of my mopeds.
“From whom did you steal those two boys?”
They asked, quite certain of our culpability.
Enough was enough, I had to
speak out: “They are my own treasured and private
property, those Mobylettes and as such, should you not
be referring to them as girls?”
Both officers appeared to be both shocked and apalled in equal measure, not so much I think at my impertinence in trying to pick nits with their grammar, but the fact that I was so ignorant that I didn't even know the difference between a Mobylette and a Cyclomoteur! Just what kind of low-life scum were they dealing with now?
"Une Mobylette, cher
Monsieur, is manufactured by Motobecane, MBK if you
prefer, un cyclomoteur est un putain de Peugeot!
Vos papiers s'il vous plait Messieurs!"
I was preparing a little speech in my head, along the lines of, ”Do you know exactly who you’re talking to squire? Raving Lord Rodney of Skirvishley, that's who! Nephew to the Pope…..former Prime Minister of...”
Then at last Steve poked his
bonny red-topped bonce out of the zip.
“Good morning to you sirs.” He beamed, miraculously boil free and cheerful.
I knew in an instant that if he didn’t have Sir Henry inside that tent with him we were all good. There had been an unlikely spate of televised documentaries recently about the little known heroes of the Tour de France, with a pile of previously unreleased or lost footage of the untold greats; Carlos Nostia, Hans Freshona, Mike “hot tuna’ Nixe, not to mention Mister Steve himself, El Tequito. Living legends, to a man, then of course the late great Ukrainians, Yogosan and Sodergarden, god rest their souls. We were home in a boat.
“This is my very good friend Steve Milbona,” I smiled, crudely self satisfied. "As an unsung hero of one of the world’s top three most pointless sporting events, perhaps you would care to make amends and sing him a little song? Just before you fuck off.”
“Vos papiers s’il vous plaît
muff divers.....Molehill mountaineers!”
Steve of course had no
papers, and all I could produce was a scrap of rather
official looking grey paper that I found in the car
bearing the name Ralph C. Parsons. It was only then, at
that moment that I finally recognized the car and the
funny smell, which amused me no end. Thoughtful French
Eric began rummaging about in his big bag and eventually
produced a sharp plastic Republique Française
ID card with mugshot. He held the card firmly in
his left hand, studied it for a fraction of a second
before looking up, straight at them and said:
“What is he name of the current Minister of the Interior?”
“This is no Wheel of Fortune matey, get on with it damn you”
Eric handed them the card with a spoilt brat grin and said, “My dad!”
The two of them both, froze on the spot, took root, petrified….
“Miettes! Chestaire Bure nay! Le Loup Hurlant, Oh! La plume de ma tante! ”
Not wishing to lose face as soldiers rarely do, they said we could leave at our whimsical pleasure and that the World Cup and the Olympic Games were every bit as ridiculous as "Le Tour.” Notorious nonsense to be sure.
“But please, gentlemen, be quite certain to leave the little white vans just as they are.”
Now that’s what I call a
fair cop, don't blame your shoes when your foot is
We all agreed that it was time to pack up and move on, reconvene at the Norwich City Social Club for le petit dejeuner.
Repacking the little tents though turned out to be considerably more difficult than dispatching a pair of Gendarmes with their tails tucked firmly into their undergarments. Get in! Get in you little shit, into the bag, right now. Do we look like men that don’t know nothing about bivouacs? Prepare for a beating! Eric, more patient tried his level best to bend those carbon fibre bastards to his will, but they just sprang back in his face, time after time. I can honestly say that not for one moment do I believe that these things ever came out of bags in the first place, totally improbable.
“We must go back to the shop and watch the video again," said Steve.
“We shall do no such thing! Deal with him Eric!”
And then the wind began to break, gently, ever so gently at first, gusting, circling, veering north north-west, immoderate and bad. The mighty evergreen cypress giants planted all around for protection began to sway ominously. A fir-tree roared in its leafless top disturbing foul mouthed magpies. Nestling soft, we could hear that loathsome wind and its ill-concealed intentions for a hundred miles.Whoosk! And then it came! Whoosk, is not really a word, but cold and freezing to the bone we braced, shivered and cheered. Jabbered and screamed as those rotten domes from hell, lifting their leanness, took flight like giant kites. Blaw, blaw, blaw, the wind blaw.
WHEREIN ARE INSERTED THE DESPAIRING VERSES OF THE LUCKLESS POOFTAH, TOGETHER WITH A TASTE OF PARADISE AND LUNCH.
Unfortunately we never did find Sir Henry and the boy who had turned yellow, in spite of valuable daylight hours spent foraging around bus and railway stations, main and sub-post offices and peering under many a dipstick bridge. It was quite as if it had never existed, or more likely the place had just blown away. In the end we settled for the more salubrious Grand Cafe de .. ? The Opera I think it was, settled down comfortably to grand crèmes and puff pastries, and began to brew fresh plans.
Now I have long had the fancy to head out west towards Nimes and beyond, to seek out and enjoy the company of a fellow expatriated and reclusive sharp-witted sort of chap, none other than the seminal artist, writer and musician Robert Crumb. It was widely known that he and his little family had taken up residence somewhere in the Vidourle valley which they had asked not be named, 'fearful of attracting streams of fans.' Ha! Ha! To boldly go where no fanboi has gone before shouldn’t be much of a problem once we find a decent Wifi Hotspot, and the three of us, well we could hardly be mistaken for fanboys.
Eric who had clearly never heard of the man and – What sort of a name is Crumb anyway? – deemed that it would be a pity to be so close and then completely miss the Luberon National Park. Steve? Well, I knew fine well which particular barren wind swept summit was top of his wish list, more about that later… Eric of course had it his way; his arse had been so buttered and lavishly re-buttered of late with all his bacon saving exploits that he was now sliding on gilded splinters, we simply had to give in.
“Come on lads, everybody in the whole world knows at least one person with a holiday home in the bloody Luberon, let’s be three of those unexpected, uninvited and thoroughly unwanted house guests.”
He had a point; my old chum and former drinking companion Marc ‘Sticky’ Philips, the persuasively dyslectical Estate agent who had sold me that ‘highly despicable villa thing with burundles of lewd potentiality’ in Saint Tropez all those years ago had upped sticks as it were, and planted himself in Lacoste, of all places. Old Stickybeak, he certainly owes me one!
certain that Rigoberto Baresa lived in a big mansion in
the outskirts of Apt with a bevy of young and attractive
bicycles. 'Perhaps he would lend us a couple or three and
we could have a bit of a race up Mount Ventoux?' At least
his sense of humour was intact. Eric, predictably, had ‘a
mate’ in a town which I am pretty sure he just made up on
the spot: Oppède Le Vieux? (dirty old man, trans.)
So this year, in Provence of the calciferous sort, our very particular lunch began in L’isle sur la Sorgue and as ever in one of those fantastic supermarkety places that Eric has warned me quite firmly not to mention again by name. I have always found that New Year’s Eve with its eleventh hour excesses and doomed resolutions is a dismal occasion for all the forced jollity and midnight toasts and kisses, so how rude would it be if we unexpectedly turned up two days later without our own bottles?
Canadian and Kentucky Western Gold and a five year old Glen Orchy; I had noticed them all on my previous forays into this retail paradise; tons of it at a fraction under ten Euros the bottle. Was I going to drink this shit? Hell no. but with a goodly stock of this stuff we would be a little more welcome at the Luberon cheapskate’s ball. This place isn’t exactly Le Lavandou now is it? Knock me down with a feather, no sooner had we been graciously allowed inside, I couldn’t help spotting a very large sign announcing that they were offering a whopping, no massive twenty-five percent reduction across the board on all their beers and Fink Brau. Those Krauts were just not going to let the French Government or anybody else distract them from their mission to transform the populace into a bunch of useless fat-assed drunks. Bravo! I piled up the trolley thing as usual, but to avoid the habitual tut-tutting and any Gallic malicious implications from ugly bifocals at the checkout, I chucked in some bratwurst, a bicycle repair kit and a knee bandage, to make it look like we going to a garden-party at Lekkerland rather than just preparing to get pissed in le parking.
Prophetic! Cupidity is its own reward. A van load of dusty road menders and their indispensable and versatile colleagues, the hole diggers of myriad nationalities, had set up an improvised luncheon parlour right next to my Renault, under an adventitious early blossoming almond. Their eyes glowering on the alluring contents of our trolley, they beckoned us over:
ni? trinki con vi?”
You eat with us, we’ll drink with you? Just guessing.
charcoal blazing sadly in the brightening sun would not be
ready for cooking purposes for over an hour but their
little microwave oven plugged into a portable pneumatic
drill generator was already churning out piping hot soupe
de poissons for all the family. The camel wore a nighty
One of the
gang seemed to be enjoying a jarful of generic cola, which
personally I only use for de-coking moped exhausts or
thoroughly cleaning out petrol tanks. He looked like a
nice enough chap though and was engrossed in a colourful
illustrated pamphlet. Curiosity prompted me to converse
with this agreeable looking stranger.
Sir," said I, "what may be the contents of the treatise
you are reading with such attention?"
week, Sir", he replied simply. "Powerfix and Crivit Sir,
black puddings too and some full stretch sensible ladies'
underwear. Food for cookware fettish fellows and a full
seventeen percent off a grand selection of smoked meat,
freshly baked bread and some fishes, praise the lord:
Gregory Peccory by name Sir, and very pleased to meet you,
too." He positively grinned at me and offered a warm and
nicely grimy hand.
The bonnet of an R4l, is as near as dammit flat and makes an agreeable dining table for six, but it’s not an extender and was a bit of a squeeze for the nine of us, but what a damned good lunch it was. All the better when Alberto the foreman pulled out a dervish violin and Birkov produced a gleaming ukelele, the one bowing his heartstrings tender, tuneless to my ears yet drawing us in unwillingly and all the while the beatnik Zouave plonked taut and metallic, thrumming a po and steady rhythm. This was the stuff, then Irish Greg positively thumping his string-less bass, and to my delighted stupefaction, Alberto, still tormenting the catgut began to croon:
renmen ou Dillmart Oh wi pou mwen fè.
Dillmart oh de ay, Dillmart oh de ay' Dillmart oh de ay."
Encore!" Cried aloud Steve. Ars musica!
Somewhere between two and three-thirty, when the back to work whistle finally blew, or more exactly when the store manager plucked up his courage to stand and stare horribly at us, hands on hips from a cowardly distance, we parted company. They had holes to dig, we were in pursuit of Stick Philips and the Marquis de Sade’s partially restored pearler of a château that dominated the already precariously perched village of Lacoste. We poked around some of the drab vernacular real estate for a while, adroitly sidestepping luckless pedestrians of the mollydooking tourist variety or the even less fortunate sensibly clad residents, with crusty baguettes underarm and handfuls of well packed pharmacy bags. I’m kidding, the place was picturesque, full of character, well heeled but so desperately dull, that it begged the question, what do people do all day around here? A pleasant place for a beer it certainly was though, three stars.
I don’t know why we do it, but
occasionally in bars we let Steve do the ordering, it
makes life more interesting. We invariably get twar
glasses, but their contents are often a surprise. This
time we were served with slightly cloudy lager, spiked
with some kind of fruit syrup.
“What exactly did you ask for Steve? If you don’t mind us asking."
“Kiwi ales," he replied cheerfully, fair enough.
“Well come on Rod.” Said Eric at last.
“Come on what?”
“You have a call to make.”
“Yes, old Stickybeak Philips, where we will be dossing tonight.”
“Ok, right, I thought you knew I’d just dreamed that one up, what about your mate Baranaby Nightlite, the peeping tom, you call him why don’t you?”
Eric reluctantly picked up and speed dialled 3615, the Minitel Rose and after a few pointless gestures, head shaking and shoulder shrugs came clean: “all right! I haven't used that in twenty years and I don’t know a single solitary sausice round here. Call Baresa Stevie and I’ll race you up the Ventoux and win, you old fart.”
“Rigoberto’s dead! Dead to me, moved to Switzerland last I heard, just to be closer to Phil Collins.”
Historical evidence of the presence of
Rigoberto Baresa in southern France though not plentiful,
is convincing. Dr. K D. Schooepf, the
distinguished German army surgeon and naturalist, who travelled extensively through Provence in 1983-1994, has this to say : “Well at least he really existed for you Steve, you had a friend at least….”
We had no other choice but to have another round before engaging in the grizzly task of finding a solid roof over our heads for the night. Eric ordered three more Kirs Royales. Our world was in tatters but his vowels were perfect.
Hotel rooms are not really the thing in Lacoste, but according to our benevolent and intuitive barman, bed and breakfast establishments abound in the plain below. Eric duly made a proper 'phone call and reserved us rooms in one of the said chambre d'hoes, but where to grab a spot of dinner? I dont think there was any ill intent in Hobson's choice to recommend The Loofock. It was, as my expression suggests, the only one open.
I would delight in reporting that the place was the worst restaurant or even the most repugnant eating experience I have ever enjoyed, but part of my second mind says quite the opposite, due for the most part to their wicked and quite exquisite sense of humour. Not the strange jeu de mot of a name, I do not find puns to be at all funny, just cold comfort to the slow witted. Loofock sounds as though it may be pidgin Provençal for the seal: le phoque in French. I know this for sure as there happened to be a rather large sculpted seal right next to the entrance, but loufoque, again in French, can be loosely translated as bonkers. So these guys, even if they were not clinically insane, and I have no proof of that either way, were extremely well versed in the art of looking stark and raving.
The badness of the place was clearly deliberate and contrived, a strictly commercial practical joke. The service was casual, intermittent and superbly rude. Most of the items on the menu were off. When some fodder was finally delivered to our table, I do not wish to describe it, I will just mention that severely overcooked then re-microwaved pasta in the most disgusting of pink sauces is not a dish to be eaten cold, with or without a spriggle of soft green herbs.
Even the wine with its whopping bouquet did little to brighten the atmosphere of gloom and self destruction, so bad it was that Eric requested an argument.
“Rodney,” he said looking nastily across the table, “I’ve been reading your notes and they're shit.”
“Thanks for the tip Eric, I'll bear that in mind”
“No but seriously, why are you trying to write in French? Who do you think you are? Sam Becket? Your French is worse than dreadful, much worse than a Spanish cow. Try writing in a language that you have at least some rudimentary knowledge of its grammar and spelling; Hopi, Low German or why not English? Eating, drinking, shagging and stealing things? Do you really think people want to read about that? In French!”
“Well they would if they cared about life's deeper meaning ” I replied tartly, "and cripes, you of all people. FYI, I'm writing it in French to get published. Nobody writes in French anymore, so they'll publish just about anything. Just like Tammy recording songs in French, candy from un baby."
”Good point Rod, but believe me, fresh breezes and vast expanses are what everybody looks for in a French travelogue, bright sunlight, and impressive solitude are a must and never ever forget the oceans of lavender. People too, nice interesting people; teachers, communists, stock solid characters with a hint of a beloved forefather in ze resistance, not to mention a sincere love of the simple life and rich food. Less of your bloody Dillmart too, and while I'm on the subject, if you intend to mention this horrible place by name you're going to have to lawyer up my friend!”
“Now that's a strange expression, Bruce,” I said, assuming the poor maternally abused little bugger would get the reference.
“Rule one. No Copyright infringement! Rule two. Vast expanses. Rule three, There is no rule three. Rule four. Never shop at Dillmart, when there is anybody watching. Rule five,” In a joyous boorish chorus. “No pooftahs!”
“It's January and cold as a witch's tit.” Whimpered Steve prissily, more confused than ever. “And I want to go home."
Well what kind of a wake up call was
that? We had been on the road for just three days and
already we had got to this? I had been going for at least
the full seven days drunk.
“Look.” Steve implored, "we don't know where we are going or why, and this country is just fucking boring, eating, drinking, rogering and stealing things, Rodney is spot on. It's not just a book Eric, it's a scorcher! Here we are in deep mid-winter heading north to shit creek without a compass, just the beer lights to guide us. What's the bloody point of it all? Lets head way down back Mexico way!”
“He is not entirely wrong, Eric.” I said
calmly and continued: “Our goal was to keep on driving
until we hit a place called Nazareth, for the hell of it,
and there to sing a song. But you simply can’t do that
kind of thing these days, you must have a plan, an
itinerary, stuffed with pleasant places to see: churches
chapels, wild flowers and chateaux. Then you’re supposed
to have a camera, take pictures of everything, so you
dont need to use your brain or memory any more and you
look at the pics later on your tablet and say: ' look,
I’m in Provence and that’s my wife with a melon on her
head making a purchase'......
"Studies have shown.." Said Steve
authoritatively and as if he really believed it..."That
spending much of one's leisure time continually taking
snaps is an incurable mass psychogenic illness.."
"Still want to argue Eric?”
“Not really Rod”
“Yes you do, you started it.”
“No I did not.”
“Yes you bloody well did…”
“All right, planning your life in advance then taking pictures of it is every bit as pointless as trying to find a place that may or may not exist.”
“That's what I just said.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.”
“Shut up Rodney.”
Eric was battle bruised, 'shut up!' to my knowledge is not in the professional arguer's vocabulary.
“We really are completely deboussolé.”
Eric said, glum once more, neatly summing up poor Steve’s
Who said the French don't have a word for everything? Deboussolé? Uncompassed? Me, I believe.
“But guess who managed to find where
your hero Crumb hangs his creepy ménage a trois?” Eric
bounced back with a grin. “Daft bugger signs his blogs
with the date and the place where he wrote it, à la
Tangiers 1959. So let's set off in the morning, due West.
Duck duck go! ”
I had sort of changed my mind about the whole Crumb and his cheap suit serenading thing.
"De poor man got he head screwed on all wrong.” To which I added mysteriously, “I have reason to believe we will not be well received in Crumbland.”
Eric was unsettled. “OK then what do we do?”
“We get another drink, thats what we
do.” Steve was in control now, “and we don't just wave
our hands and snap our fingers limply and we do not look
for eye contact either, because there is none.”
He marched straight into the kitchen and returned clutching a fat bottle of single malt and a bloody, cleanly severed hand. I have to say, I was impressed. We drank slowly in smug silence, all of us wondering how the night would end, after we left without paying, as we surely would; just joshing with you about the bleeding member by the way.
“I’ve got a mate in Chateauneuf-du Pape.” Eric said at last.
“Of course you have,” I humoured him,
“and as we all know, I’ve got an uncle who squats in a
one bedroom apartment in Rome who is the bleedin' Pape.”
“Why did you take so long to remember you actually did have a friend then?” Steve asked most reasonably.
”You are going to find out.”
“Call him then, Eric.” I goaded, intrigued by that last remark but still incredulous.
“Hi Matt, its me, Eric.”
“Fine, and you.“
“Great, now look, I'm with a couple of buddies in the Luberon and we've got ourselves a bit of a situation, would it be OK if we all dropped in at your place for a couple of days?”
“Well if you're sure, that's bloody
fantastic, oh and try not to mention Cambridge, know what
“Cheers, see ya tomorrow then!”
I had to say it:
“Since when have we three been buddies?”
Eric didn’t answer that one, just looked at us as if he wanted to be all greased up again. It was half-past ten and I was thinking, one of these days I'm going to get an early night and we all agreed it should be today, because it had, as you may recall, been one hell of a day. We left as planned completely unnoticed without even asking for the bill, scot free, five stars!
in at La Ferme Joyeuse (Bunny Ranch,
trans.) and were quite rightly I suppose, asked to pay in
advance. Our rooms were nice and tidy, very tidy and very
very nice. I hoped that Steve could manage to leave his
that way, lift the seat at the very least.
set a candle on a three-legged, three-cornered table and
turned down the bedclothes. "I suppose you have a
nightgown?" she questioned.
I nodded. She left.
that room I shuddered. Normally I pack a rod; in pyjamas I
carry nothing but scars from Normandy Beach…..But I'm
your brother and I’m wearing pyjamas! The poor little boy
in the stripey ones. Yes, the nicely brought up person
that lurks inside me felt awkward, yes yes! We have no
pyjamas! I felt so strangely guilty about it, too guilty
to sleep in my boots, a tad too cold to strip right down,
the place was just so damned clean and homely.
”Whisky-wow-wow”, I breathed, a mini-bar, please let me
know if there’s some other way I can screw up tonight.
WHEREIN A ROAD TRIP QUITE LIVES UP TO ITS NAME AND A GREEN MAN MAKES HIS FIRST AND LAST AMUSING APPEARANCE.
The following morning, freshly hungover but with
something positive to look forward to at least, our day
began with cleanliness, coffee and tarte maison. Following
my dreams, I had become deeply moved by the terrible
plight of French people, and was filled with a desire to
help them. I also awoke from the same dream realizing that
I had subconsciously gained a little knowledge. One more
of life's little mysteries neatly resolved, soundly
thrashed and locked in the coal shed: what do people do
all day? What is it that really makes the world go round?
Cleaning things and making jam. Voila! Damn good jam
though Susan, if you ever get up this way, the cherry is
worth a stop.
shoved off enthusiastically by our five sentimental hosts;
Floralys was a little rolly ball of fat, nearly all body,
with very short legs; all night long she had sung songs
which were alternately risqué and sentimental but far too
Frog pop for my liking. She only stopped talking in order
to eat, and left off eating in order to talk. Then Esmara
who was nicknamed La Toque Du Chef, because she
limped a little. The former dressed as the Goddess of
stupidity, in a tri-colored tracksuit, and the other as a
Spanish looking woman, with a string of copper coins in
her carroty hair which jingled at every uneven step. They
both looked like kooks dressed up for the carnival,
neither uglier nor better looking than they usually are.
of the girls on the first floor as far as I can remember
were Linessa, Coshida and Linessa again as they were short
staffed that evening. Madame Floralys had endeavored to
prepare each member of her staff to be a pattern, an
epitome of the feminine type, so that every customer might
find as nearly as possible the realization of his ideal.
Linessa represented the dumbish blonde; she was very tall,
rather fat, and lazy; a country girl, who could not get
rid of her freckles, her short, light, almost colorless
hair barely covered her head. Coshida, who came from
Marseilles, played the demanding role of the Jewish
princess. She was thin with high cheekbones, covered with
rouge. Her black hair smothered in Brillcream like stuff,
curled greasily about her forehead. Her eyes would have
been pretty, if the right one had not been covered by a
stubborn pharmacy patch. Her Roman nose drooped down over
a square jaw, where two brilliantly white false upper
teeth contrasted strangely with the bad color of those
below. Linessa of course was a dike. As if you hadn't
I am still thinking they had not done a thorough inventory of their mini-bars. So bedraggled and exhausted we must have looked the night before; even Steve had declined their lowest budget options. Disappointed; they most probably thought we had no pressing desire for night-caps either.
We had agreed to avoid any major towns, so there would be no major disappointments like ghastly Avignon. Motoring steadily through pleasant pink and gray countryside, slipping discretely through nondescript Heineken green villages we made steady progress, but seldom did we pass unnoticed, Renault Fours and cyclomoteurs are a rare but clearly welcomed sight on the low-ways and byways of La France profonde. We left a dumbstruck and bemused populace in our wake; If Traveling Piquet was still in fashion we would be forty pointers, rarer than a parson on a gray mare without furniture. But I was sure that somehow, in some way we had cheered them a little, maybe even made someone's day, which was nice.
Shortly after midday, the traffic began to thicken noticeably, the pleasure renewed of a Renault Clio tickling my bum again for the first time in ages and a steady stream of assorted small vans in the opposite direction. Sometime ideas, just jump up and say 'hello'. I decided on the spot to play a quick game of silly-buggers. In the days when my wife was still of this world, Tazzy was cute and the word 'rehab' had not been properly minted, back in those glorious days when ten million viewers would make love to me wildly on a weekly basis our little family spent the summer holidays as ever in our Saint-Tropez weed haven. To waylay the tedium of the long journeys here and back, I had devised quite a number of little games and distractions. Later I even wrote a small booklet just for Taz, entitled 101 fun things to do for the bored in France, of which sadly their are no remaining copies. Taz’s favourite car trip game was not I-Spy, Counting Cows or Slug Bug, it was obeying the speed limit, with nearly stopping at pedestrian crossings coming in a close second.
We were in a 50 kph suburban zone on the outskirts of Pernes-les-Fontaines. Fifty is of course about the limit even for my soupy mopeds, so we already had quite a build up of hungry drivers behind. The French have always have had a tendency to go home for lunch, make no mistake, there is nothing new about it. The trick though is to start flashing your headlights at the on-comers, creating the illusion that there is trouble in a blue uniform up ahead. The effect is immediate as they in turn slow down to that stupid and in Top Gear unsustainable, speed of forty-nine. If you are really lucky and hit some traffic lights, poorly designed and confusing junctions, or best of all roadworks, you’ve hit the jackpot. All of which I’m happy to say was precisely what happened today; the full Monty. By half past twelve the traffic flow around this sprawling little town flowed no more. Eric and Steve were having the time of their lives; mopeding in traffic jams is a little known and greatly underestimated pastime. It was nearly an hour before I caught up with them.
prank had cost us our lunch too, but we all agreed on
three things; one that it was worth it, a little taste of
mayhem is worth a thousand Freshvale sandwiches, two; to
press on towards Chateauneuf, try to get there before
dark. Three; that I would not repeat the performance at
the two o’clock return rush.
our journey in high spirits, satisfaction, and obvious
self-complacency, believing ourselves to be the most
important travelers in all the world. All the adventures
that could befall us from this time on could be regarded
as already done and brought to a happy issue. We made
light of of the volley of stones that had leveled half of
Steve's teeth, the gruesome huntsmen or the audacity of
the Gendarmerie. Entirely absorbed in such fancies we
stopped for a well-earned leak in a specious rest point
bordered by a swathing field of lovingly tendered Lavandula
Steve took me aside and said to me quietly, "Isn't it odd that I have still before my eyes that monstrous enormous nose of Chester Burnett? He's off the scale on my IDB." (Douche Bag Index, trans.) I snapped back at him. "Look Steve," I said, "do you still believe that old man Burnett has a hand in some international conspiracy to beguile innocent people into buying poor quality groceries, poisonous preparations, breaded meat, fake yoghourts, very cheap cheese, dangerous packaging and unnecessary seasonal hardware and useless gadgets. In bulk?"
"I do Rodney, I really do, in fact I've got the papers with me that he was supposed to sign; a lucratve little deal for a brand new line of chocolate chipped Cornetto Burnettos! But when I finally met the man I just couldn't go through with it, so why won't you listen to me?"
"Let us reason the matter out Steve: even if this were true, who would give a fuck anyway?" I spoke to him kindly.
As we were engaged in this conversation a man appeared following the same road behind us, mounted on a very handsome motorcycle; he was dressed in a gabardine of very bright reflective green cloth, with a tawny velvet facing and a superb pudding bowl Montera. The bike was of a deep mulberry colour and and so brightly polished that she and her rider were an almost perfect match, they would have looked even better if he had been made of real chrome. When this traveler drew by he saluted us courteously, but spurring his ride he seemed to want to pass us without stopping. This is a sodding road trip if I am not mistaken, so I called out to him, "gallant sir, if you are going down our road, and have no real need for Ultimate Speed accessories, it would be a real pleasure to us if we were to join company."
"In truth," replied he on the 1981 V-twin Virago, "I would not have tried to pass you so hastily but for the very real fear that your cyclomoteurs might turn restive in the company of my mare."
"You may remain safely upon your mount, Sir," I said in reply to this, "for ours are most virtuous and well-behaved young men; they never do anything wrong on such an occasion. I say again you may pull up if you like. Even if she were offered to them in fishnets between two silken sheets, she would not get a rise out of our boys, that's why I always choose gay French cyclomoteurs, especially Peugeots."
The traveler drew close, and seemed amazed at the handsome trim features of Eric who rode as ever without the helmet which Steve carried like a red and blue vanity case as a front basket. "By golly, Sirs," he exclaimed in alarm, "Just looking at you, I'm beginning to think you could cure a rainy day!"
The man in green cast but a glance at short cropped scarlet Steve, yet examined me closely. Still more closely did I examine the man in green! He struck me as being a man of intelligence. In appearance he was about forty years of age, with but few grey hairs, an aquiline cast of features, and an expression between grave and gay. His dress and accoutrements showed him to be a man of good condition. What he in green thought of Rod of Skirvishely must surely have been that a man of this sort and shape he had never yet seen; he marveled at my unkempt hair, my unusual and still nascent beard, my lofty stature, the lank and winter pale sallowness of my countenance, my uniform. Such a long tall shorty of a figure had obviously not been seen in these regions for many a long day.
I saw very plainly the attention with which the traveler was inspecting us, I saw a look of curiosity and astonishment; but before he could begin to question us I anticipated him by saying,
"The appearance we present to you, being so strange and so out of the ordinary, I should not be surprised if it has filled you with wonder; but your wonderment will be short lived when I tell you what sort of chaps we are. We are men who go seeking adventures. I have left my home, I have mortgaged my estate, I have given up my comforts, and committed myself to the open road and allow her to take us wherever she may please. Our desire was to find a town twinned with Nazareth, however on discovering that this would inevitably lead us to the infamous 'nine-three' department of the northern Parisian suburbs, we have decided to bend our own rules on idly following old friend road and have changed our names to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. We are now joyfully headed to the Pope's new castle. So now you know who we are and what paths and philosophy we follow; profound ambivalence my friend with a touch of Incongruity and thoughtlessness."
The man in
green seemed to be at a loss for a reply; after a long
pause however, he said. "You were right when you saw
curiosity in my amazement Sir, but you have not succeeded
in removing the astonishment. On the contrary, now that I
know, I am left more amazed and astonished than ever. I
cannot for the life of me realise the fact that you are
costumed a little out of step with the time, or there can
be people left on this earth who speak in such a
ridiculous fashion and travel about the countryside in the
dead of winter, with no particular place to go. I should
not have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes.
What a power trio you are! May Blitz or Clapton, Bruce and
Ginger Baker would be more like the thing." He remarked,
looking strangely at our drummer."
I was beginning to think by now this traveler saw us more as being crazy persons, not just Cream. I was waiting for him to confirm it by saying something further; but before he could turn to any new subject Eric begged him to tell us who he was. After all his dear friend Rodney had so readily rendered account of our station and life.
To this, he in the green mac replied.
Sirs, am Jean-Pierre Sixpack, a schoolteacher by trade and
by calling, native of the village where, with God's grace
we will be dining tonight. I live my life away with a
spouse Arlene, who is also devoted professionally to
the instruction of common children so of course we are
more than fairly well off. Fifty briques a year, five
hundred million of those the lovely old Francs. Bingo!
pursuits are hunting fishing and as you can see
motorcycling. I keep neither weasels nor ferrets, nothing
but a tame Golden Retriever; castrated, registered,
vaccinated and goes, as you may well have guessed, by the
name of Filou. Seventy nine percent of dogs in France are
so named, which is comforting.
I have six dozen or so long playing records of popular music, some in our mother tongue, some twenty percent in English, both of which I consider to be honest entertainment that charm by their style and attract a great amount of interest by the invention they display. Sometimes in the evening when the washing up is done, after the twenty hours news when there is no particular or edifying documentary or match of the day at my disposal I like to play cards with my neighbours and friends. At other times Arlene and myself will often invite these friends into our own sweet home and our victuals are always neat and well garnished: a bay leaf here, forest picked fungal produce there and lots of meat from the farmer's market, usually piggy bits prepared in a grand and globular purple sage sauce. I have no taste you see for supermarkets or grandes surfaces." (very, very big supermarkets, trans.)
At this he looked very pointedly in the direction of Steve's drooping carrier bag saddle packs and observed with dismay that there had obviously been "a whole lotta shopping going on around here."
Steve was listening now with rapt attention as the gentleman proceeded with the account of this life and occupation.
"I buy my breads fresh, three times a day and go to the cinema on Wednesdays, I vote so frequently that I quite simply dream about putting pieces of paper into envelopes, sealing them before scuttling off to find a bigger envelope to put them in. I have minor concerns about public security, I tinker with the National Front. I respect the law and my doctor's prescriptions to the letter, and in August of course we go camping in Les Sables d'Olonne (Vendee). I vote readily for anything, and heaven knows I am frequently solicited. But democracy in France is not the joke that it is in other countries, here it is a responsibility. I sign petitions and donate generously to charity, especially that wonderful Telethon thing. Have you ever just once stayed up all night chaps? All those kind donations, they warms my hearts to the cockles.
On hearing all this Steve quite literally threw himself at the man and seized his right foot. From where I was standing he seemed to bite it again and again with a great vigour and a tear in his eye. The gentleman asked him placidly, "What are you about, brother? What are all these kisses for?"
"Let me lick your boots at least then," said Steve, "for I believe you are the first, second and finest saint in a saddle I have ever seen in all the days of my miserable life. You are a saintly man."
simplicity shows, you are something of a saintly man
yourself brother," replied the gentleman, "but I am no
saint. The venerable Abbé Chamel, inventor of that most
substantially buttery creamy white sauces was a
saint among saints; the Right Reverend potato guy Hachis
Parmentier, definitely of course and then what's his name?
Gordon Ramsey, the man on the telly, The Top Chef, for
sure, for sure, broccoli In! Ugly plump Paul Bocuse and
Norbert Tarayre the Intermarché Christmas guy and Kinko
Blumenthal. Oh! How I love our top heavy French cooky
The green man was exposing himself at last, yearning our confidence and willing to share. "I fervently uphold the teachings of my union bosses and full cream cheese. In fact I will take to the streets in the protest if I feeling my rights are being undermined. Yes my friends, I love my country and that Jamie Olivier; long live seared scallops and creamy mash. Up the thirty-five hour week and retirement at twenty-nine. The mighty mackerel may not be the most versatile fish but it delivers a comforting wallop to loads of lovely recipes. But no my friend, he returned to earth sadly. I am no saint."
back and regained his pack-saddle, having extracted a huge
laugh from Eric and myself and excited fresh amazement in
"I don't know if I have already mentioned it," the green man went on "but by own dear father was something of a hero; my old dad fought hammer and thongs for the French Forces of the Interior; ze resistance my chums. He was the special one. The only man woman or child who claimed to have actually heard de Gaulle's June address from London. British long wave radio here in the south of France? Quite astounding, an exploit."
To change the ridiculous subject I asked him if he had any children. He observed humbly that his summum bonum was in the gifts of nature, in those of fortune, in having many friends, and two absolutely delightful pretty children who studied diligently for more than eighteen hours a day, eschewed all social networking and took tennis and piano lessons, even extra English cheerfully in their stride.
By now the green hornet was quite clearly wavering at the thought of inviting us home for dinner.
steak and kidney pudding is so comforting and so
completely French. I just love everything about it and is
always going to restore calm and order even after the most
awful of days! I genuinely believe that opulence can
be achieved without too much effort. Yes Sir, opulence
without effort! That's the thing. There is no country in
the world, to my mind, that epitomises this more than La
During the final portion of this nonsense, Steve became bored and wandered off to beg milk and a crust of bread from some shepherds, who were milking their ewes hard by.
the very moment when our friend Monsieur Sixpack was about
to renew the conversation, I perceived a Peugeot of a very
different kind. A horrid little 205 GTL, all covered with
loyal flags flying along the road towards us, a car full
of obnoxious drunken youth. Hearing the vile and
irrelevant thumping French nasty-boy music as they
thundered by, heaving unspeakable gestures in our
direction, I was persuaded that this must be the start of
some new and more interesting adventure. France was
catching up with modern times at the speed of light. Bruce
Springsteen and Madonna, then U2 and Blondie and music
still on MTV. Welcome back to nineteen,
when to go out and when to stay in", the green man
continued relentlessly sounding very much like David
Bowie, "and in the wintertime of the year I am positively
glued to my medium sized television set on Sunday
"The shit you cook is shit Mrs. Patmore, really! I saw your set-up, fucking ridiculous. You and I will not make garbage. We will produce a chemically pure and stable product that performs as advertised. No adulterants, no baby formula, no chili powder. And if you're turning Mexican on me, then I'll go upstairs!........ Oh my dear what a pretty pickle! I don't think there is a way to achieve that. I mean, you must do what must be done, of course, Mister White, but I can safely say that a great many noses will be out of joint and I should also point out, that you are living on Lord Grantham's land in your beastly caravan and the very chemicals in your brew are from Lord Grantham's garden. I hope it's not too vulgar in me to suggest that you find some way to overcome your scruples........"
it. I called aloud to Eric and Steve to put on their
helmets. Steve, hearing himself summoned, prodding Dapple
vigorously, came up to his masters, engine roaring.
implored, "if you push those two-stroke engines too hard
in the condition they're in they'll blow apart! Steady as
she goes!" The three of us set off.
cooking that fine pudding as soon as your guests have
arrived." Don Sixpack shouted to us bravely "That
way everybody will be good and drunk when it is finally
ready to eat."
Don Sixpack and the best of luck to you, but we were going
after those bastards! Justice will be served, one
way or another we will make them turn it down! Here comes
another terrific and desperate adventure. Engage!
moral of the story is, I was thinking, beaming
victoriously in the direction of my literary adviser,
luckless Eric. Wasn't it he that had told me just how
boring and confused is your typical French guy? How I
regret having used up my one shot of using so cheaply the
word discombobulated; for it is the mot juste for
all French people these days, not just politicians. Their
cultural and gastronomic goal posts have not just been
moved, they have been confiscated and the sugar daddy
state is now much less generous than in days of yore.
However interesting they may look, even framed in limpid
piercing sunshine, oddly dressed and nostalgic, hanging
around near a field full of lavender, they're still as
dull and disturbed as a dishwasher. "Oi! And the sheep
thing Eric," I shouted, "that was a nice touch wasn't
it? I bet you didn't see that one coming!"
OF WHAT HAPPENED
TO THE GENTLEMAN'S GULLIBLE FRIEND IN THE HOUSE OF
GLOAG, WHICH HE TOOK TO BE A HOSTEL.
We rolled up Matt’s finely graveled driveway shortly before five, in just enough light to make out the three storey, square stone built hostelry. Very nice and very spacious too by the look of things, I could see us booking in here for a day or two. The place was surrounded by an army of vines, twisted, gnarled yet uniform, lined up elegantly one metre apart, two more between each row and pruned to perfection. Four branches per head each with a pair of last year's shoots cut back to two fat buds ready for action. Beautiful.
was hung with inexpensive looking oil paintings, recently
acquired water colors and poor sketches hung upon the raw
stone walls, while on the tables and oddly hanging shelves
and in elegant glass cupboards there were a thousand tiny
ornaments: small vases, statuettes, groups of tin soldiers
and towers of grotesque compact discs. An imitable and
quite fantastic array of crass Murano glass and Lladro
figurines filled another rather large room into which we
into the room with your pencil in your hand, you see
somebody naked and you say, "who is that man?" You try so
hard but you don't understand
just what you will say when you get home. Because something is happening here but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Skirvishely?
Matt himself, even in these unpleasant surroundings was a little older than I had imagined; grey-haired mister business man, retired, well fed and well pleased with himself. His feeble limbs accentuated this rather poor first impression and the frequent substitution of string and sticky-tape for belts and shoelaces marked the man irrevocably as a bachelor. He and Eric shook hands rather formally but with obvious warmth and exchanged a few kind words which I preferred to distinguish otherwise. Eric turned and said he would let Steve and myself introduce ourselves. Now that's what I call a turn up for the books.
Steve went first with the handshake thing:
“Milbona, Stephen, pleased to meet you sir, but a recent paper suggests that my travelling companions are just ghosts and empty sockets.”
always a hard act to follow. I have always had to play
Clapton to his bloody Hendrix, I presented myself slowly
and simply with my calling card:
'Rodney Skirvishely. Adjustments.'
“Matthew Gloag", he replied with slime. "Enchanté to make your acquaintance . You look like two or three chaps badly in need of a drink. Am I right?”
was familiar yet Scottish, his accent American yet Irish,
and his charm was both British and engaging.
“Quatre verres Ginette et biguns S'il vous plâit.”
We were sitting comfortably behind huge glasses of more than passable claret with a touch I believe of the dreadful Merlot, beautifully served though by Ginette, who seemed not to speak a word of English, come to think of it she spoke not a word at all; an altogether pleasing trait in French women who at best sound like ducks or geese but more commonly, after [they have had], a drink or two, a small and angry pooko terrier that you may have just (accidentally) trodden upon.
“Why didn’t you tell us before that Matt was a winemaker?” I asked Eric because, well? I wanted to know.
“Everybody is a winemaker here in Chateauneuf Rod, but he's not just a viticulturist, he's an alchemist and a bloody genius, if you don't mind me telling them, Matt. Tell them what you do, they'll love it!”
“Well yes, I'm no winemaker, or even a vigneron for that matter A viticulteur perhaps in as much as I grow a few grapes, but really, all the hard graft is done by Ginette and that husband of her's. Estoban; she nurses the vines throughout the growing season right through until winter pruning. Estoban is my tractor driver and caviste, who handles the pressing, filtering and fermentation and so on, we also have an oenologue who drops by from time to time for a fee…. So you see I'm no winemaker, I am just an assembleur. There are no less than twenty seven different grape varieties on the few tiny acres out there, so we make the wine in the smallest of vats and mix and match until I find exactly and I mean that, precisely the right chemical combination to go with any particular dish.”
to have noticed that his bottles bore the funniest of
little labels and asked the wino man, picking up a frontal
“Pretty minimalist your labelling Matt, this one just says General purpose red, pre-dinner guests; peanut butler (sic), white chocolate, and or Jaffa cake: Carignan, Grenache with a hint of Cabernet. I always thought wine labelling had to be more precise, you know, with bar codes, appellations and health warnings, full-bellied ladies with a diagonal line right through them, Dillmart GmbH in upper case large and what about “Contains Sulphites” for Pete’s sake?”
“Well if I wanted to sell the stuff, yes of course, but this is home made for home consumption, so they can all fuck off, pardon my French, but yes, fuck off with their absurd regulations. It might surprise you to know that I am actually forbidden to irrigate my vines, even in the driest of summers. I’m supposed to sit there and watch them wither and die, and as for those bloody sulphite warnings: I'll let you into a little secret, those appellation controlled branded château mon arse guys just chuck bagfuls of sulphurous chemicals indiscriminately onto the freshly pressed juice for no other reason than to kill the natural yeasts found on the skins of the grape, so they can ferment with the recommended commercial strain, all in the name of uniformity and product integrity......
......All my wines are fermented naturally, if the process just stops at seven degrees I don't care, if a six turned out to be a nine I don't mind, and I don't add any sugar, beetroot, wood shavings or fish! My wines taste good, do they not ? Well, even if they don't, you can't fault me on their lingering afterburn, and I promise you, drink as much as you like and you won't be troubled with a hangover.”
”Is that a real promise or an idle boast Matt?” I challenged, ”Because I for one like to drink muchly.”
”Be my guest Rodney, but better still, just wait till you associate them with a tasty morsel. Nothing beats the taste sensation when maple syrup claps its hands and collides with ham.
Matthew Gloag was an inspiration to us all and with the ropes of hope he hauled us high. 'If wine is the final frontier then you simply must have a wee bite to eat.'
“Look. I have to be honest with you guys," Matt looked at us all with alarming intent and naivety, “I've been in this country for, how long has it been now, Eric? Five years? I love the place, the people, their culture, traditions and values. I truly love their wine but…”
The man was
to be a deception after all then? Everybody else comes
here for vino tinto, bread and formaggio, not the cheesy
“No I love the place," he continued, "but I can't stomach their food, I have most of my groceries dropped in by expattwat dot com: Vegemite, baked beans, pickles and cheese-cake mixes, curry pastes, Budweiser and chinky chicken. Just once I tried a French turkey for Thanksgiving; really tried, basted the beast to death, but to no avail my frirnds, never again!"
“So these wine mixes of yours are prescribed to go with Twinkies, Biscuits'n Gravy, meatloaf, Thousand Island Dressing and blueberry cobblers ….? "
”Yes, what else? I've just sent Estoban out to the ‘King MacTractor' for a selection of goodies, at least they have one of those in town, open 24/7, too. He should be back in a minute, prepare to be amazed.”
“If we are being honest Matt.” I said as we were waiting for Estoban, “I don't really believe in these food and wine associations; what's wrong with red wine with fish and white with red meat or strong cheese?”
“Absolutely nothing my friend as long as they are the right wines; a fluffy gamay or pansy pinot noir will do wonders for sea bass or turbot, a sweet pink with Stilton is a delight to the middle portion of the tongue and a petit Sauvignon blanc with a bloody T-bone is quite disgusting, but if you have both, well who would would give a fifty dollar fuck anyway? … By the way all my cheese comes directly from Wisconsin.”
your rosé and sausage roll escapade in Saint Tropez, Rod?”
Eric asked grinning stupidly, ignoring the enormity of
Matt's twenty-two pounder red cheddar ring slumped
heavily on a coffee table, next a Monterey Jack with ghost
“You went on all fours about nuptials, wedding marches and cupid's chokehold.”
"I just wanted some decent rosé on a sunny spring morning and of course it is considered rather rude in this country to buy wine without a lengthy discussion about what you intend to eat with it. You of all people Eric!”
arranging and sorting bottles……..bottles labelled "Rollo
MacBacon and Swiss", "Southern Style king Biscuit Boy,"
"Chocolate Chip Chowder" and "Mrs. Patmore MacEnteritis."
He had obviously done this many times before as when the
food arrived Estoban proceeded to place the appropriate
cartons of junk beside the similarly labelled bottles, and
we were invited to tuck in…..It's tropical hot-dog night.
“Oi! got any rosé, Matt?”
This was young Eric, of course, cock of the company. “I've got a spicy MacPebble-dash here Matt and nothing to go with it!”
“Well spotted lad, a proper rosé will cut through any Madras or vindalooo, even that crap you have before you, but unfortunately in these parts we are not allowed to make rosé wines. Verboten, my young friend.”
“That doesn’ t usually stop you Matt!”
bottle of Couillon Eric, enjoy my friend, but strictly
speaking we are breaking the law. It is an old and now
forbidden grape variety, but I had Estoban take some
cuttings from one of his cousins in the Var and graft them
onto some of our plain vanilla rootstock. I only make
about 24 bottles a year, just for the curry. The
Couillon-rosé is neither a white nor a red grape, it's
pink and eats chicken kormas for breakfast. Try it.”
Meanwhile, I was sinking my teeth hungrily into a seed topped bun all gherkined up, stuffed with soft and rubbery meat, smothered in two or three unsatisfactory sauces and slime cheese, flattered with foul and soggy iceberg lettuce; I chomped on it greedily for a moment before finally finding room for a slither of ruby red.
minute! What is going on in my mouth? My sweet Lord!
Is this it? Oh dear crap can't you see? It's them! Not me.
Is this it, is this really it? Is this really the meaning
of life? Is there no meaning other than this fantastic,
amazing and interminable explosion, this blissful and
totally unprepared for harmony. MacBastard burgers, saliva
and a seventeen grape varietal unofficial Chateuneuf du
down wiv a fevver, two score years and ten of beery hell,
snorting whiskey and puffing horrible mind-shagging Nucky
balls, and it has come to this! I got this feeling that
I'm gonna break down the door, I got this feeling that I'm
gonna come back for more, I was thinking that I lost my
mind, Finally I've got some feeling. Rod's wasted years
are well and truly behind him, but now I'm falling asleep
and she's calling a cab while he's having a smoke and
she's taking a drag. From now on, or better still,
henceforth, my life will be all weird stuff in a bread bun
heaven, quenched with an engraved bottle, and I definitely
will come back for more; reasons to be cheerful. Part
of the Buttery Bar! You are a disturbing genius.
more praise," said Gloag at this, "for I hate all flattery
and language of this kind is offensive to my chaste
WHEREIN A FARMER FROM HAM IS INSPIRED BY A REED AND A PARTIALLY INFLATED ASS
Clovis Mister Gloag?"
repast being finished: Steve inquired with odd but
well meaning unction.
"I think I know your cousin, Buddy Holly, we used to smoke grass together at Parkview"
Gloag!" I interrupted necessarily, I return thanks for
your hospitality, kindly welcome and your thoughtful offer
of comfort foodstuffs to myself and my company. Your show
of favour to valued customers has exceeded all that could
be expected. You have greeted us and feasted us, but this
is no party, this ain't no disco and it certainly ain't no
fooling around, so I feel that I should thank you formally
for all that you have done. But don't worry, I’m not going
to go all Mister Manners on your ass and get into the
social intricacies and delicate situations, but really
Gloag, there is a six-point formula to the proper
As I continued my discourse, Steve paid repeated visits to the wine-skin, which Eric told him had been hung upon a cork tree to keep it cool. I must have been longer in talking than the supper in finishing, but finally Gloag silenced me: "Would it give you amusement and pleasure by making one of my servants sing? He will be here before long, and he is a very intelligent youth and well versed in " La Chanson Francaise"' and what is more he can read and write, and play the badly tuned guitar to perfection."
Matthew had hardly done speaking, when the spindly notes of an overpriced banjo thing reached our ears and shortly after, the player came up, a very good-looking young man of about two-and-twenty. Matthew asked him if he had supped, and on his replying that even if he had not, he would rather eat his own legs than the infected, malodorous, hog's swill that was normally on offer. He who had already made that offer said to him:
"In that case, Karl-Joris, you may as well do us the pleasure of singing a little, so the gentlemen, our guests, may see that France really does have incredible talent. I have told them of your accomplishments, and we want you to show them and prove that what I say true; so, please, sit down and sing that ballad about the happy people. I do love that one so."
"With all my heart," said the young man, and without waiting for more pressing he seated himself on the edge of Matthew's Italian leather sofa, his spot, and tuning his tuneless piece of crap, began to sing to these words:
vieille Terre est une étoile
Où toi aussi tu brilles un peu
Je viens te chanter la ballade
La ballade des gens heureux
Je viens te chanter la ballade
La ballade des gens heureux
a long chorus Karl Joris finally brought his Jolly song to
an end with these words:
chœur dans une cathédrale
Comme un oiseau qui fait ce qu'il peut
Tu viens de chanter la ballade
La ballade des gens heureux
Tu viens de chanter la ballade
La ballade des gens heureux
sung," I observed. I barely translated it for Steve, I
barely had to, the ballad of happy people? The thinking
man's nightmare. Steve just swayed and stared at Matthew
and glared horribly, disgustedly at the young Frenchman.
He was quite drunk but unambiguous. "Try that bone on
another dog," he growled, "you may think of me as you
will, a man of no compassion or sentiment if you like, but
that my friend was shit. I've got compassion running out
of my ass and I am the Sultan of Sentiment! But that
really was a heap of shit! The ballad of happy
people? Whatever were you thinking of Matt, There are no
happy people, how could there be?"
clearly Steve," I said quite calmly, " that your
regular visits to the refrigerator demand compensation in
sleep rather than in music."
turned to Eric. More than usually drunk, and
vindictive, bold as brass and looking for trouble,
Giles of Ham!" Exclaimed young Eric unwittingly, "I
Told you never to tell him, Steve!”
“I never done say no word. Honest”
it Eric." I had to intervene, again, quite strongly.
"It has been pretty obvious mate......And Matthew here , I take it was your favourite professor?
hell did you find out Rod?"
Actually your dad told me all about you. He's really proud of you, you do know that don't you?”
blushed discreetly, suppressed a tear and winked at Steve,
arrogant to the very end. "Do you think," he said to me
after a pause, "you scurvy scum clown, that I am for one
minute embarrassed by your words? Quit my ass, leave my
delight, piss off, let rip, get thee gone and shut the
fuck up asshole!
“Now that's what I call plain speaking! But what, pray, are you proposing to do with your luscious law degree", I continued bewildered, "and how old are you any way: twenty-eight? Thirty?"
”Don't worry about me old man, I do have a degree in international law and I'm going to use it to my own ends. My sole ambition in life has always been to grow up and sue the bastards!”
”The bastards? Which particular strain of bastard may you be thinking about? Many more than several would be understating the thing.”
”Why the French government of course, I'll be good for millions.”
“And what exactly will you be suing them for?"
against humanity, that's what!”
“How's that?” I said surprised, "what kind of crimes?”
“Well numero uno, imposing the French language on the unsuspecting and innocent; impossible grammar and irrational plurals. X should just mark the spot and the past historic tense should not exist, let alone be used in children’s stories like this little beauty:
Il se leva de bon matin, et alla au bord d’un ruisseau, où il emplit ses poches de petits cailloux blancs, et ensuite revint à la maison.
Would you believe that my dear mother used to read all those Little Red Riding Hood like stories to me when I was a kid of about three or four? By the time I got to primary school I was actually speaking in the passé anterieur, talk about having the piss ripped out of me by the other kids…I'm going to fucking well sue them. Think about what I've just said, please, think about it for a second”
But is it really true?” Matt asked genuinely concerned.
"Yes Matt I'm afraid it is."
”I Couldn't agree with you more Eric, but where do you draw the line between humanity and French people?” I pointed out pertinently. “They'll cut your ass in fine slices with that one in court and this being France, watch out for the marinade.“
actually thought long and hard about that Rod, and I was
thinking less French people, more the poor expectant
immigrants that come to France looking for Nirvana only to
find Daft Punk, or what about our ex-colonies? Vast
expanses of Africa, mud hut schoolrooms with make believe
blackboards and little hopeless nobbies chanting a
monotonous sing-song chorus of “j'eusse cru, tu
eusses cru, il, elle eût cru, nous eussions
cru, vous eussiez cru, ils,
elles eussent cru?".....No I will never be able
to Adam and Eve that monstrous language! What sort of
start in life is that for a shiny faced coon?"
“You wouldn't happen to have any more
gory tales about schooling would you Eric?”
Matt was already counting his share of the millions.
“Well now you come to mention it…When I was about ten or eleven my father, of whom you have no doubt heard Sir Matthew, but not had the misfortune to meet like my two friends here, decided, quite out of the blue to allow me to go on a school trip, a “Classe de découverte” Would you believe?
“Is that it?”
“Sod off, Matt and listen, this is a
good one. At the crack of dawn we were all
shepherded and shouted onto buses and then head off
somewhere on a motorway. A place I am not likely to
forget, Gounfaroun, which at the time sounded more like it
should be middle earth Tolkien, but was in fact a drab,
not worth the detour small town with a fixation for
donkeys. There were donkeys everywhere that day, as it
just happened to be the annual donkey festival. After an
hour or so of looking at these beasts of all shapes and
sizes, watching them shit noisily, hearing them squeak,
fart, wheeze and bray and then sampling some delicious
“saucisson d'ane”, purveyed from a donkey
butcher's caravan, came the big moment. For our
delectation, they were going to make a donkey fly.
I'm not kidding, some rough looking
types dragged an old jackass into the public square, so
old and emaciated that it was clearly good for nothing.
Thinking that if the beast did soar up to heaven and never
come down again, it would be no great loss, they set to
work inflating the animal. These good people inserted a
strong tube of reed into the donkey's butthole and
everybody present was invited in turn to blow. Holding the
tube in one hand, and ready to clap the palm of the other
instantly over the pipe to stop the air escaping!
Then last, but not least, came yours truly.
'Your turn now Eric,' said Benedetto, my kindly professeur.
What! I vainly cried, me? Use the same
reed all these horrid people have put to their lips? No, I
will not! Too many foul mouths have been there before!
Then everybody began to get angry and started insulting
me. They said I was going to ruin the result of all their
labour, so I found myself obliged to do my share in
blowing into that horrible tube. I have always been a
fastidious boy as you so well know, I even
told them that they should call him a Johnny Bum, because
Jack is rather rude and Ass is downright vulgar. Then I
tried to save the day by I pulling out the reed, rapidly
reversing it, and sticking it in again by the other end. I
really thought I had played my part, and in a way that
seemed rather more hygienic. But the ass did not fly, by
removing the reed, I had let out all that wind and of
course it was all my fault!
Then they all turned on me. Everybody, the villagers, my classmates and even the avuncular Benedetto. Talk about humiliation Matt. Ostracized I was, sent to Coventry, made to write a lengthy dissertation on the declaration of human rights Article 27 (1): 'Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.'
There, that’s why I’m going to sue the
Steve and I really enjoyed that one, but
Matt was jumping for joy, as if Quinn the Eskimo had
finally made it.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in ages," he exploded with joy, "but if you will take my advice Eric, you really cannot take up a humanitarian cause, expect to amass a huge personal fortune and call your defents nobbies and shiny faced coons all in one breath. But then again? As tall stories go though Eric, that really was a spooner! Anybody else got one? Rodney?"
“Yes in fact I do I but I think mine
deserves a new chapter. Matthew, old chap. Could you pass
the Grey Poupon?.....Merci beaucoup!”
WHICH TREATS OF THE STRANGE THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO THE BRAVE SKIRVISHELY OF STRESLAU AND OF HIS IMITATION OF THE PENANCE OF MOSS BROS.One evening when I, the luckless Rodney was in my Prime Ministerial study, in a brown study myself as it happened, the commandant strode in, stern, wearing black gloves, buttoned up to his ears.
“Rodney,” said the ex-captain authoritatively. “Rodney, you’ll have to go!”
There he dwelt, erect in the doorway, grand and sassy as embodied duty. Sassy! There’s a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every time I hear it. Then I finally grasped the real meaning of his words…I had to go!
Pale, I rose and looked around with a softened eye upon the cosy snuggery. Tightly closed in, full of warmth and tender light, upon the commodious easy chair, my books, the carpet, the white blinds and the windows, beyond which trembled the slender twigs of the little garden. Then, advancing towards the brave officer, I took his hand, grasped it energetically, and said in a voice somewhat tearful, but stoical for all that:
“I am going, Davibra.”
you like a cup of hot chocolate before you go?” He
murmured timidly, as if to make amends.
"Too little, too late and too hot," I told him in a straightforward manner. A Toddy of another kidney would not have met with a rebuttal of that nature.
I left, as
I said I would. Not straight off though, for it takes time
to get one’s things together. To begin with, I ordered two
large leaving trunks bound with brass, and an inscription:
“Rodney of Yendor. Firearms, Glen Orchy and Fink Brau. Private Property."
Next, I had sent over from Streslau-le-vieux a downright cargo of tinned eatables, pemmican compressed in cakes for making soup, a new pattern shelter-tent, opening out and packing up in far less than a minute, sea-boots, a couple of umbrellas, a waterproof coat, and blue spectacles to ward off ophthalmia. To conclude, Quet Bezumy, my chemist made me up a miniature portable medicine chest stuffed with diachronic plaster, arsenic, camphor, and medicated vinegar.
Soon arrived the great and solemn day. From dawn all the town had been afoot, encumbering the road and the approaches to my home, ‘Bobtail Villa’. People were up at the windows, on the roofs, and in the trees; bargees, porters, dredgers, shoe-blacks, gentry, trades-folk, warblers, weavers and club members; in short the whole town. Market-gardeners from the environs of neighbouring vicious Spandrel; carters in their huge carts with ample thelts, vine-dressers upon handsome mules, tricked out with ribbons, streamers, bells, rosettes, and jingles, and even, here and there, a few pretty tarts, come on the pillion behind their sweethearts, with horny blue ribbons, perched upon little iron-grey Spartican horses.
All of a sudden, about ten o’clock, there was a great stir in the multitude as my garden gate banged open.
“Here he is! Here he is!” They shouted.
‘May I inquire,’ just one whispered softly in my ear, ‘are you Aynsley Dunbar?’
“Yes, you may inquire”, I replied with much kindness and no trace of condescension, Chunga’s revenge shall be sweet.
When I appeared upon the threshold, two outcries of stupefaction burst from the assemblage:
“He’s a Turk!” “He’s got on spectacles!”
In truth, I
had deemed it my leaving duty, to don the full and worthy
costume. White linen trousers, small tight vest with metal
buttons, a red sash two feet wide around the waist, the
neck bare and the forehead shaven, and a vast green fez,
or chechia, on my head, with a long black tassel tied
together with this and that. The five positions of the
fez? I’ll show you six!
No, I cry your pardon, I was forgetting the spectacles, a pantomimically large pair of azure barnacles, which I wore of course to temper all that was rather too fierce in my bearing.
“Long life to Rodney! Hip, hip, hurrah for Rodney!” roared the populace.
Calm and proud, although a little pallid, I stepped out on the foot-way, glanced at the hand-carts, and, seeing all was right, listlessly took the road to the railway-station, without even once looking back towards Bobtail. The station-master awaited me, an old African veteran of 1930 and he shook my hand many times with fervency.
Streslau-to-Clovis express was not yet in, so during a
quarter of an hour, I promenaded up and down speaking to
the waiting hoard of this and the other. I spoke simply,
with an affable mien; it looked as if, before departing, I
meant to leave behind a wake of charms and regrets. Gentle
and placid as Socrates on the point of quaffing the
hemlock, Rod the intrepid Chelsonian had a word and a
smile for each.
On hearing their hero confabulating in this way, all the poor poloi felt tears well up, but some were stung with remorse, to wit, officer Davibra and my chemist. The railway employees blubbered in their corners, whilst the outer public squinted through the bars and bellowed:
“Long live Rodney!”
At length the bell rang. I stepped up on the platform and the man gave me the news, he said, "you must be joking Rodney, where did you get those shoes?"
"Tightly undone and sadly
elastic!" I heard some jester cry. I knew in an
instant that this would be the very last harsh word I or
my footwear would ever again have to suffer; what in the
world do they hold against the stiletto?
As the station clock struck five-fifteen, a dull rumble was heard, and the low spark of the high heeled boy shook the vault.“The New Mexico Express, gen’lemen! First stop, Mobile Alabama.”
“Good-bye, Rodney! Good luck, old
"Such, sirs, is the true story of my sad adventures; judge for yourselves now whether the sighs and lamentations you heard, and the tears that flowed from my eyes, had not sufficient cause even if I had not ended up as professor of Ruritanian studies at the Clovis Community College!" (And what a highly competitive Community College it was too. Trans)
"Would there be any further questions before I bid you all goodnight?" I asked with haughty indifference, "I'm really quite overcome with emotion.”
“Any questions? I dont think so!” Steve was blowing his top, “and you will not be bidding me goodnight until I've had my say. Can we start another fresh chapter now, please?”
“Absolutely not Steve. That's the long and the short of it. If you have anything to say, just say it. You have five hundred words or three minutes, whichever comes sooner. Then I'm off to bed.”
“Well then, sit tight Rodney my friend, for this is Steve's tale and every word of it is true. Five hundred words, five hundred more, just to be the man who spoke one thousand words to you."
“Ok a thousand, get on with it, but no
new chapter, under any circumstances!”
WHEREIN AN INDUBITABLE PRINCE PUTS FORWARD A TANTALIZING PROPOSITION
”OK Rodney, have it your way, but remember, blank lines or lines starting with # are to be be ignored.......Some time ago, on a very hot summer's day I was strolling along, summer vacation fashion in let me see, Lower Baden Lebensmittel I believe it was. I Passed a beer garden and saw a group of cyclists sitting at a table. I took a seat nearby and ordered some herrings, then I thought for a moment of Pammy. I saw her clumping up and down, tearing her pants, singing softly then blaspheming in that beastly way she has. Then I saw my man, flat on his back and I wondered if his clothes would look nice on me. He had a kind of knitted puce suit, a crimson felt fedora, an oval half a pince-nez, a hollow reluctant smile and dappled cheeks. He was drinking beer from a jar and eating pancakes. What an idea!
The gentleman approached me without caution, just a wretched proposition. Zipping his ample primrose mittens right up to the shoulders…
#Dont interrupt, Rodney!
He approached me with a smile like a goblin girl .“Young man”. He flattered me soundly. “American young man with shaven legs and musculature. Beneath my cheeky brown flecked cheeks and woeful glasses lies a man of means, not the apotheker, avocado or pin headed lawyer that you may perceive from mere appearance. Take me for a burgomaster if you will, but I am more, much more than this; I am a randomiser of wholesome ingredients. I am Prince Ernesto of Kaufland. Please note that my stick is of little importance: I use it for effect and doling out regular but reasonable beatings, likewise the monocle...The Kaiser I am! Imperial clever clogs of a secret and deeply untrustworthy pro bono foundation, and thus-being, in urgent need of a cyclist of a particular age and nationality with a poor haircut and what's more I pays handsomely.”
“I’m no cyclist Sir.” I cringed, not liking much the sound of pro Bono!
#Ignoring me he went on.
“Our sole vocation is amiable invasion yet ultimate control of each and every European nation, with the exception, needless to say of oil rich Norway. Our credendum is, in a manner of speaking: ‘In through the out door.’ We are well tempered sphincters that train, wheedle, cajole and occasionally use unacceptable tactics to make wayward populations behave with decency, like us! To queue in an acceptable fashion for example, buy special things on Wednesdays, to know that the ultimate choice is ours' and that the customer is seldom, if ever right; but above all we strive for the total eradication of shoplifting in all its vile and disgusting incarnations.”
#Not applicable in Portugal.
“That is wonderfully fine,” I said, in awe at his monstrous allusions, “but where exactly do I fit in with these splendid plans?”
“We have opportunities for fellows of your particular calibre son; openings, orifices, If I may call them such, indeed we do. As soon as you have accepted your mission I shall dispatch you forthwith to the south of sunny France, whence you shall begin your bespoke business with practical immediacy.”
#I did accept my mission, even before enquiring humbly about the actual knobs and dials of the already done deal.
“You shall have a dual role, so your job title will be in fact binomial: as one of my team of fifty or so Agents destabilisateurs , you will be expected to assume a name…
#Here he handed me an alphabetical list of possibles.
..assume a name and play the part of a
flamboyantly demented retired professional cyclist, which,
if you don't mind me saying will be a walloping great
piece of Black Forest gateau for you my boy. You shall be
like a catfish swimming in the deep blue sea. Secondo, as
one of our clandestine, blackmailing mischief-makers, you
will seek out one Eric Burnett, hunter, drug-paddler and
queer as a nine Euro bill by all accounts. Last seen in
and around the libertine environs of Saint Tropez. You
will find this man and befriend him, then get your hands
very dirty, if you understand the phrase?........His
father you see plays an important role in the governance
of our little puppet state and we need leverage. We delve
deep into the food chain; deeper than you could ever
imagine, cooked meats of many a description, sausages
galore with daft and dodgy condiments washed down with
yardstick beers and good lashings of Freshona. Yes
leverage is what we need, and from the top rung of
degradation in boots. If you are happy with that, and you
verify that everything that had conflicts has been staged,
you can write Dillmart commit just here, to
finalize the merge commit. And to finish Herr...”
#Glancing at the paper I had just signed.
at me like he had just beaten hell out of me at fussball
one of my personal favourites, and um! What's this a
nickname too? El Tequito! Bravo Sir. By the living God,
but this is a great miracle! it has knocked off and
plucked away the beard from his face as if it had been
shaved off designedly. You are indeed a most remakable
man! To finish Stephen, as I was saying, you will receive
a stipend of some twenty-five thousand Euros per month, a
generous expense account, you know, for dinners and
lunches and suchlike, as well as a safe house in the
village of Les Couillons.”
there Steve," I had been counting. "That makes
a thousand, not one more word, you promised..."
Ernesto hesitated. 'a clever man Steve, knows his onions
are small, pickled and Pharm Phresh, so I apologise in
advance for the sheer and utter crabbiness of your lodging
place, but it remains the location of choice for
government agencies and institutions such as myself.
In fact if truth were to be told Stephen, I own the place,
hook line and barrel. Look! He cried, pulling a strange
looking puppet from one of his ample pockets. Lookee
lookee here is the mayor, the lovely Lady Mayoress herself
all warm and cosy in my pocket. How foolish she is, for
there will never be a discount store in this town as long
as I am alive. And please don't ask what's in the other
one." (pocket, trans.)
village, Stephen, you will find amongst others, Skirve,
the deranged and disgraced quiz show host and
home-breaker. Then the Incredible Ralph. Oh Lord how I
would love to see those two in an orderly queue, or catch
'em red-handed! We also possesses the Aggoun brothers of
the CIA (Cash In Advance). Watch out too for the heinous
Assman and his treacherous birds and an even more fearful
chap called Graham, who drives a big bastard Volvo, with
brakes!....It is a remote little bougre, cut off, and the
end of the line electrically speaking, yet at the same
time, a mere stone's throw from centres of great interest
to the manipulators and the Swiss. But take care though,
he added gravely…Do not mess with us fine Sir, for our
relations can be severed with less diplomacy and respect
than those which they were bound, and that in an instant.
Take care Stephen, for once our stores have taken root, a
hugely profitable housing estate will mushroom all about.
Be careful my friend and loyal employee", he said at last with just a touch of remorse, do please be on your guard, I know of at least one assassin loose in the town and Britain’s most wanted dispatriate, codename Mickaela is also believed to reside there. The policing in The Couillo' is, what is that word the idiot British politicians and Chief-Constables use all the time? The policing is not robust. Not robust at all, do those people even know the meaning of the frigging word?"
well and I slept sound that night, drifting off regretting
and cursing the one striking difference I should have
noticed long ago between the French and us: The Daily
Mail, but digging deep, they are still douche bags.
Steve's story had amused me, but uncommonly drunk and
deeply content with Mister Matt's cool collations and
beckoning sleep, I collapsed, done in, discouraged
seen a donkey’s bum too close, but when he slept, he
crushed my night with writhing wrists, his lips all
puckered, cheeks bulging and eyelids trembling. A little
robin perched lightly on one of his bandaged legs. So
soundly we sleep. Sleep on Steve. The morning will be my
time for questions and I can only hope for answers. I
turned back to dreams.
I was hired sporadically by Ernesto’s foundation, I worked as a distinguished yet underpaid spy, dispatched on secret missions to unearth discrepancies and unseasonal fare. To seek out discourtesy, short change, half measures, French mustard, slacking and wild boar pie; with with carrots! All this to gain the money necessary for my return to Oslo on foot.
short-cuts taken to make a Kronecker or two, shortcrust to
bate your breath. I was explicitly instructed to make
difficulties, to be British with an uncongenial smile, to
feign abnormality just before the check-out,
then insinuate a foreigner's odd request. Be a
vegetarian or a Belgian vegan. Ha! You been pickin' my
berries? S’il vous plait? The hours when I would
like to take my bath were of course strictly none of their
business, but my desires for fresh mussels relentless.
Where may I find a fairly priced wrapped tuna fish
sandwich boy, or where in the store, pray, may I take a
good crepe? I was to be well-mannered, yet stick a stick
right between their spokes; and when the job was over, I
reported back to Ernesto in the car. A silver Audi A6
Avant registered in Strasbourg; car 67. Come in car 67.
Can you hear me?
never a real banana,” Steve told me, clearly displeased.
"A man in a banana suit! Just before I pickle your predominant ass!"
“Oh, heavenly shit! I am so frightfully sorry my dear boy. Was machts?”
“A matter to report directly to the management, that's what the matter is.”
It was another few days before I dared peek into my rusting wing mirror, only to find that Chester had continued his hapless progress down the foggy grove; choking and whimpering his way to a gatehouse, through which he made his bungling escape.........
o'clock was striking by the Government clock when I awoke.
I really had slept very well, all night and morning and
even a goodish piece of the afternoon. It must be granted,
though, that in the last couple of days the fez had caught
it pretty hot and lively! My first thought on opening my
eyes was: "I am in the land of the Popes!" And the Popes
were closer than a hand's reach, and they should
disentangle themselves from me. At Once! Ugh! A deadly
chill struck me, and I dived intrepidly under the
coverlet. But just as that that moment was over, the
outward gaiety, the blue sky, the glowing sun that
streamed into the bedchamber, Steve came in with a nice
little breakfast that I should eat in bed, the window wide
open upon the vine-field; porridge, marmaladed toast and a
pig stick tapered at both ends. The whole flavoured with
an uncommonly good bottle of old Gloag wine very speedily
restored my pluckiness.
moments later, enjoying my first ever breakfast in
bed, I clearly heard Steve and Gloag in conversation on
the sunny sheltered luncheon terrace below my window.
"It was about two years ago, Sir when I first made the acquaintance of that poor lost creature." Steve was telling him to my amazement. "We got acquainted in a public-house. He was 'from Switzerland' a nerd and a drunkard for sure. He had been in a situation of some sort, but from his drinking habits I could sense that he had lost his direction. His clothes were so cheap and threadbare I couldn't be sure if he had a shirt under his coat; or the other way round. He would drink all day, from morning till night, mainly beer but with a good course of Bourbon Whiskey in between. Why he even took his coffee with a good slurp of gin.
"Bravo!" Said Gloag, all admiration.
"He was not one for an argument though, like the common or garden drunk; in fact he was rather a quiet fellow. A soft, good-natured chap and although he never actually asked me, it was as plain as the nose on your face that the poor fellow always needed a drink. I of course would get my round in and so we got friendly, or rather more like he got rather attached to me. He would follow me like a little dog wherever I went. The first time it was 'let me stay the night Steve'; well, I let him stay and that night I peeped at his passport too; that's when I found out that the man was British, not at all the Swiss botanist who had been dispatched here in order to write 'A Natural History Of Les Couillons'!
The next day was the same story, and then the third day he came again into my house and sat all day on my window sill with a bottle of (old) Bushmill's, then stayed the whole night. Of course I gave him food, more drink and shelter, for I am now a wealthy man and I can afford myself a little hanger on!
I pondered and pondered what I was to do with him. Must I drive him away? At one point I even moved right away and stayed a while with Maurin in Saint-Tropez, but I felt ashamed and sorry for him; all alone and the most pitiful, God-forsaken creature as I ever did set eyes on. And not a word said either; he does not ask for anything, but just sits there and looks into your eyes like a dog. To think what drinking will do to a man!
I keep asking myself how am I to say to him: 'You must be moving on, Rod, there's nothing for you here, you've come to the wrong house; I have a wife more demanding than my job, a busy work schedule, a nasty boss who imposes much traveling.'"
"You are a kind and patient man Steve," said a bewildered Gloag.
"And then he would disappear for days on end, off on a moped drinking spree, leaving me to wonder what he'd do when I finally said that to him; how long he would sit and not understand a word of it. And when it did get home to him at last, how he would get up from the window ledge and take up his bundle. I can see it now, the red-check handkerchief full of holes, with God knows what wrapped up in it and then how he would set his beret to rights, he was a man of such delicate feelings! Just how he would open the door and go out with tears in his eyes. Well, it's hard to let a man go to ruin like that. I was so sorry for him, but he had to go.....
...And then what do you think of this, Sir? One day I had gone out on a bicycle ride, and when I came back in the late afternoon, the first thing I saw was Rodney! There he was, sitting in his ragged old coat, waiting for me, offering beer! He had been all the way to Aldi and was drunker than I had ever seen any man before. 'greetings to you, you Hairy Yellow Vetch' he said and my heart sank. Well, I thought, there's no help for it. Why didn't I turn him out before? So I asked him straight off: 'are you out of your senses man?'
I sat down
on the spot and began to ponder some more: will a vagabond
like that be very much trouble to me? And on thinking it
over it seemed he would be very much trouble indeed. He
must be fed I thought. Well, a bit of bread in the
morning, and to make it go down better I'll buy him a big
cheap Spanish onion. At midday I should have to give him
another bit of bread and another blasted onion; and in the
evening, fried onion rings that I would slice so
finely for him with some more bread if the poor chap
wanted it. He was no great eater but a very great drinking
man, who as we all know, never eats; all he wants is beer
or bourbon whiskey. He'll ruin himself with his drinking I
thought, but then it struck me Sir and took great hold on
me. It suddenly struck me that if this worthless man
should go away I do believe I should have felt that I had
nothing to live for. Now what can a sensible man make of
that Sir Matthew?
I soon found out that Rod was a desperate character. I gave him a little word of advice: 'Rodney,' said I, 'you ought to take a thought and mend your ways. Have done with drinking! Just look what rags you go about in: that old coat of yours, if I may make bold to say so, is fit for nothing but a sieve. A pretty state of things! It's time to draw the line.'
Rodney sat and listened to me with his head hanging down. Would you believe it, Sir? It had come to such a pass with him, he'd lost his tongue through drink and could not speak a word of sense. Talk to him of computers and he'd answer back with Slackware! Talk to him of literature, music or cinema and all he would say was VPN or Bittorrent! Or The Onion Router; which he of course pronounced 'rootah'. "
both burst into a clear spot of awkward but thoroughly
sometimes pretend to listen to me and then heave such a
sigh. 'What are you sighing for, Rod?' I asked him.
'Oh, nothing you Forking Larkspur; don't you mind me, Steve. Do you know not long ago I saw a man shoot down a lady Gendarme in the street outside the house.'
'Well, what of that?'
'And then a second man came along and helped him change his bloody shirt.'
'Well, and what of it?'
'Why nothing Steve, I just mentioned it.'
'Nothing, I just mentioned it!' Rodney, my boy, you've squandered and drunk away your brains!'
I determined on the spot to be a brother and guardian to him. I'll keep him from ruin, I thought, I'll wean him from the glass! Very well, Rodney, you may stay in my house, consider it your own, but you must behave yourself Rodney; you must obey orders......................................."
Fury hit me
hard on hearing this nonsense and throwing off bed clothes
and briskly redressing myself, all I could think of was
Pynchon's dichotomy of when it would be appropriate to
shout 'Geronimo'? Before, during or shortly after
ex-fenestration! "Let's out and with it!" I
exclaimed just as I landed heavily on the brunch table
upon a pile of broken glass, wondering in the end if it
should have been a trichotomy. My plan was as follows:
“Steve, you are a liar and a fraud. In fact you are a little piece of shit! You sit here as if nothing had ever happened! For instance can you please explain to me those documentaries on the telly?”
“Oh yes, those. ” Steve looked at me bitterly but without regret. “All crafted with pride by Lebensmittel-großhandlung.”
He wasn't joking now, not at all, go configure.
“But didn't you even notice Rod, all the manufactured names of cyclists?: Baresa, Yogosan, Belarom? They are all nasty in-store trademarks, brand names because they think we need them, names that would make you laugh if it weren’t for the heartbreaking heroics of the stragglers in the Pyrenées and those bruising pileups in the final sprint.”
“But what about Bono? How do you explain him away then Steve?”
“How does anyone explain away Bono? He’s just a fat pillock in cheap sunglasses and that's how Prince Ernesto likes his managers; work more to eat more, he pays them in food. All his stores have a Bono or a Griffin, just wait till you see the security guards.”
of lying toe-rags!”
I faced them square. Miserable lying pieces of excrement the both of them. How could they do this to me? Eric the drop-out, living by his wits or lack of them: Davy Crockett! King of the Non Sequitur in American blue jeans and three years at Harvard! Then the phoney loco-cyclist turns out to be a blackmailing spy in the retail grocery trade.
had been in cahoots and for some considerable time, as
thick as inkle-weavers! Now let me think, that
concatenation of events, that restaurant, the first time
we all met. Steve had planned it all! How had Eric managed
to nick the bike so easily? Steve had slipped him the key!
Then my solo beer drinking career when I went missing,
presumed having a good time for several weeks or two, they
were living together for all that time. All that winking,
cold collusion and pretended badly concealed
homosexuality. Little black books and barbarian yellow
"Well boys?" I exploded. "What exactly do you expect me to say now? What do you expect me to do? I’ll tell you, I’m going to walk, I’m going home, back to a solitary life of truth and deliberation…slippery and incontinent scum! Such was the conversation that passed between master and man ”
minute Rodney.” Matthew interrupted me, as if he found it
all so amusing, “Steve is remunerated by that
vile and odiously logical German grocery store and Eric is
an up and coming Harvard graduate. Who the hell are you?”
cheek of the man!
“Yes Rod, come on we have both come clean with you.“ Steve was challenging. “We’ve all suffered, now it's your turn.”
right in a way I suppose, I owed them some sort of
explanation. We had in all truthfulness met by a bridge,
all he had said was Bonjour and I had taken him
in, under my wing. A friend in need is a friend at
last. All right, I admit he bought me many drinks
and I kipped a couple of nights or three on his
window sill. What of it? Young Eric strolled into my life
with a pig on his back and amused me. But both of them are
lying cheating swine and I was badly hurt. These
friends of mine had found companionship through means of
intoxication and it had made them homey. I do not drink to
hide my solitude, I drink because I like drinking, but
when their drugs and alcohol melt away, that will be all
they have. It is a mistake to think you can solve any
problem at all with soap flakes or telephone directories.
for gcc. No targets specified and no makefile found. Stop.
All three were looking at me as if I was eating a half cooked toadstool or Nutella straight from the spoon. Cut the trousers in two! I thought. Only give them one half.
“Come on Rodney!”
my friends, idiots that you are. Ruritania is and always
has been an absolute monarchy. No parliament and no bloody
Prime Minister! No sirs, we were for the seven long years
preceding our glorious departure, King Ludo’s Chiefs of
Police. A poor, humble, two-franc pair of the common blue
Said Eric with more meanness than I felt was
"No Rodney, sorry, I was thinking more along the lines of: “Holy Crap!”
Then, reading aloud from page three of the regional newspaper that Matt for some strange reason must have had delivered, as it bore today’s date.
“Mister Boines! We’ve got ourselves a problem! Listen to this:
Saint-Tropez, ville sous le choc…”
“Eric! Shut up. How do you expect me to understand French at this time of the afternoon with a filthy pounding headache.” I shot a particularly nasty look at Gloagy.
“OK Rod I’ll find the online version and run it through Google Translate; I’m telling you this really is big time shit.”
I read the thing twice over, but here it is just once. Enjoy, for soon we will be on our way.
A town under the shock. Since yesterday published was
stunning statistical evidence that this sunny southern
town has exceeded all known records of wintery tourist
frequentation. Its reputation as the second rudest
destination after Paris has been bitterly outcast;
politeness and bonhomie are now the rule rather than the
explanation. Hoards are flocking there to revel and
imbibulate, a veritable flash-mob phenomenon of gigantic
proportionality. All this to arouse the suspicion of
commander Etienne Moron, officer in charge of the
judiciary to the Gendarmerie of the city.
Customer files, shops, restaurants, cafes and bars have been scrutinized and many have been proven to be fans of cannabis droppings. Scenes of jollity, correct billing and rectitude left a stunned commissioner stunned. Stunned and disgruntified: One producer of cannabis were visited by police the past five days said many customers are fans of shit the natural grows or deposited. Said a spokesman:“Nucky balls are a really discreet way to consume. We are sure of what we consumate and not no way against the law it being the shit of donkeys.” Some advocates of this type of manure even decided to report openly and set up an association. Association or not, consume its own production of drugs is illegal. The phenomenon is not so trivial as that. The floor is gone on the offensive in favour of an investigation initiated by the police in the Var. They decided to continue their investigation and target lovers' culture chambers and fertilizers of “Canadian boost”!
targets are identified, young people, two girls
reportedly springing from the Kingdom United and rather
socially integrated. The goal, says the prosecutor,
Nicolas Bargeot is to control the use that was made of
this drug. It was to put an end to an activity that is
illegal today, and assess whether these people were in a
logical traffic or a personal attack against the state.
“If these two people, already known to the court, had
enrolled in a logical traffic. They are to be called to
justice. Fifteen more, who were confined to a limited
consumption, are being recalled in the law. Seventy-one
tourists, who consumed more regularly, will follow a
course of awareness of the dangers of drugs. Finally,
forty-four restaurant owners condemned for daily food
preparation and consumption, sometimes combined with
other drugs, should take special care. There is a real
public health problem, says the attorney especially for
those who take to flying.”
“Well now” I said politely but I admit hurriedly to Matt, “As ever with Google translate, we get the gist, but visiting time is over Matt and I must thank you once again for your hospitality and odd but immensely enjoyable dinner, but as Louie Louie so rightly said: 'We gotta go now.'"
from head to foot like a man dosed with mercury, Matt said
simply, but in a hurried, agitated voice, "May fortune nor
officers of the law interpose no impediment to your
“Zwei, Fier, sechs, acht Autubahn!” Cried Steve..........Homeward through the haze.
WHICH TREATS OF THE HEROIC AND PRODIGIOUS BATTLE RODNEY HAD WITH CERTAIN ROPES AND RETROSPECTION AND BRINGS THE NOVEL TO A CLOSE.
Having written the previous chapters in a style appropriate to the incidents recorded, I intend to proceed in a language more natural though less elevated, and I beg to forewarn the reader of that fact.
We are driving on the Autobahn. In front of us is a wide valley. The sun is shining with glittering rays. The driving strip is a grey skirt with white stripes, green trim. We are switching the radio on. Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn………..Now that's what I call driving music.
It may beggar your belief, and that is a strange expression, Bruce or no Bruce, but we did manage to make the two hundred or so kilometre motorway ride from Bedarrides to Le Muy in a little over six hours without being arrested or even apprehended in any way.
If you really want to get down to it, this country, La Belle and much visited France is little more than a miserable little Polizeistaat. Police Nationale, Police Municipale, Railway Police, Have a Proper Lunch Police, at twelve 'o clock sharp! Not to mention the The Republican Security Corps and who knows what other species of uniformed peaked capped little Napoleon pea-brains that roam the streets licking pencils and inspecting your trousers, from behind!
If that were not enough we also find my friends, the nauseating and utterly imperturbable bastards, the Gendarmes; lawless morons recruited, or so I am told, solely on the merit of their stupidity and arrogance; there to enforce the very letter of the law with scant regard for common sense or decency. The Jimmy's with the lotion that cynically patrol rural zones and six lane highways on beautiful shaft drive Beamers. Unfortunately in my case, I can neither beat them nor join them, but I can try. Games without frontiers, tears without fears, will this be a knockout, or just another up and under?
These idiot bastard Gendarmes for some reason are given the authority to stop you at random and by extension, for no particular reason. They stop you and look threatening, armed to the teeth and invariably wearing big barn yard sunglasses (clean as a whistle), because they only come out to play on sunny days. So here's a Renault four towing two vintage and unregistered mopeds with neither rider equipped with suitable protective clothing or an insurance certificate, on a motorway! And what do you get? Nothing.
What If I had recklessly decided to hand myself in for watching an encrypted DVD on a Linux box, huh? Not a law enforcer to be seen, so what about the five hundred similar cases I could and should ask to be taken into consideration? By the way I also grow marijuana by the shed load and download copyrighted material. I drive drunk sometimes too. Arrest me officer for I am felonious and have buggered your credibility. But there was no officer, nothing doing. I’ll just have to give myself a jolly good talking to this time.
Having got that out of my system, we did sail through toll booths, a gendarme’s favourite stomping ground, that’s why they have toll roads in France by the way, in case you were wondering. A very handy place for them to stomp around and arrest people. Sometimes we paid by tossing a handful of coins into a big net, sometimes with an in you pop, out you pop quick and dirty credit card transaction. Sometimes, twice in fact, not paying at all. It is childishly fun and easy to slip out behind the sucker paying motorist in front just before the laborious safety conscious barrier slaps back down behind them. I kept my ears out for sirens and blue gyrophares (flashing blue lights: La France un point). On both occasions I fully expected to have to take an early shower, but nary a Gendarme or poulette to be seen.
I had of course set the mopeds in bicycle mode so we could cruise along at eighty or so. I could attend to their poor sprockets later, these were desperate times, little Taz was in serious trouble and here were the desperate measures.
We all free-wheeled most of the way down from Le Muy to Sainte Maxime to be welcomed by a succession of intricately decorated roundabouts, scenes of a winter wonderland, plastic carrot faced snowmen, ice rinks and loudspeakers stuffed with Jona Lewie. January on the Cote d’Azur, Welcome, Bienvenuto, Wilkommen. Little or no expense had been spared on this Christmas extravaganza, so who was paying for all this police presence?Unofficial reports put the number at over two thousand; a spokesman later declared that a mere five hundred officers had been deployed in the Gulf of Saint Tropez area on Friday January 4th 2014 in response to a massive but anodyne bonfire beach party, en quelque sorte, on the plage des Salins.’
out that although arbitrary traffic checks are allowed and
frequent, they are not as random as you might think and
are not performed unless a specific order has been given
to be on the lookout for, say a Renault 4 towing two
ancient cyclomoteurs. So today our flagrant disregard of
the law was of no importance, instead they gave us
monotonous courtesy and sound advice.
“If you are heading for Saint-Tropez Sirs, you will be well out on your luck, we are encountering much of bother wiv ze fassbook girlz.”
From the lovely promenade of Sainte Maxime we could see clear across the bay to Saint-Tropez himself, engulfed in a thick and even from here I could sense a deliciously pungent hoppy note in the glaucous billow of sweet sweet smoke.
“A forest fire, Sir?” I asked hopefully.
“I am not at liberty to divulge the origin of that richly aromatic and invigorating smell Sir, but I will tell you, as you look to me like an honest fellow, no Sir, I say, it is not a forest fire. Now then. Be on your way, there is nothing more else to see here, not a dollop, now circulay! Circulay! (You've got to move it, move it. Trans.) Be about your own befuddled and unimaginable business.”
I 'phoned Taz.
“Taz! Where are you?”
"I'm on a beach somewhere, Les Salins I think they call it, destroying the evidence and having well, um, a little party. Where are you?”
“I'm with Steve and Eric in Sainte Maxime.”
hell is Eric? Never mind. Dad, just grab the Turpitude and
come and get us, We’ve got the filth under control for
now, but it won't be long before they get gas masks or
send in the flying circus."
“I can't get to your damned boat Taz, Saint-Trop is totally cut off…”
“Don't fret Dad, she’s moored in Port Cogolin, sooh much cheaper on an annual basis, what with that giant LeClerc hypermarket and the Police always being sloshed. Do the math!”
our way, but really? Is that true darling?”
it's gigantic, you can buy everything there."
"No, I mean
do the police really have a drinking problem?"
“Don't you read the papers? They have this thing called an aperitif dinatoire most days, you know, what's called binge drinking sessions in a normal language. Supposed to boost the morale of the troops, so you can forget about them dad, just get here.”
Rain on a
tin roof, sounds like a drum, we're fighting for freedom
today, hey! Turn on your headlights and sound your horn if
a Gendarme gets in your way[..]
hour later we boarded the Turpitude, we had left the
mopeds safe, crap, I mean cyclomoteurs, under the
watchful eyes of five hundred or more policemen.
Three up in a Renault four, boarding the Turpitude; two things I had sworn would never happen again. Desperate Dan is about to have his cow pie and enjoy his comeuppance.
Lister, Yellow-robed and vile! Lister turned towards us briskly as we tottered up the gangplank. Lister, flashing a horrible gleaming smile:
“Eh up lads, it's a small world innit?”
Small but not half big enough for the both of us, I thought crossly.
“Lister, what the hell do you think youre doing wearing my dressing gown?” Steve was furious.
“Lister what the hell are you doing here on the boat?” I said, dumfounded, “Lozzi said she had chucked you overboard at Cadix.”
“She did, the little vixen, but I luv 'er, so I stoshed meeself away on board wi'out ’er knowing.”
“Dont you mean stowed away?”
my beautiful cloak, piss poor sailor man!”
Steve was well pissed.
“Pooh! It were me that found it fair and square, thought it were a bloody jelly-fish at first, but no! It's a ruddy Derek Rose. Can’t leave summat like that in’t watter for’t seagulls now can yer? Note t' shawl collar and piped finish, a pure wool men's dressing gown wi' one breast pocket and two side pockets. Finished wi' an elegantly tassled belt. A cut back yarn ont' outside gives it a soft velour finish and the looped yarns inside maximise absorption of't watter and enhance 't drying quality. T’perfect sleepwear add-on for any gentleman’s wardrobe. A luxury robe for all seasons."
I had never though of this boy as such a discerning gent but did still wonder if all this professional Yorkshireman business was an elaborate and tiresome impractical joke. My annoyance at finding the horrid little stowaway on board was short lived when it dawned on me that he would be the only one of the four of us who actually knew how to drive the damned boat.
“Now look here old chap,” I said well-meaning, “My darling daughter and your lovely wife are in imminent danger, serious bother and on the brink of untimely grief, Is their any chance of you sailing us round Les Salins Beach way?”
'ell, try talkin' English yer great ponce!” Says the lad
leaping into immediate action and shouting orders at the
three of us: "all ’ands abaft! Rodney
athwartships, you can be me decky, Maurin, avast the
cleat and raise the doover, and you Steve, up the spanker
mast with you, barrelman!”
With the spite and malice of a true Yorkshireman, finally laying to rest my doubts about his authenticity, he added quite unnecessarily: “raglan sleeves pal, raglans I’m tellin’ yer.”
In response to our understandable blank
looks and little sign of industrious behaviour, Lister
began with charming vernacular insults : “are you pissed
or barmy? Blistering pussy boys, great stupid baloons.
Chop Chop, get bloody well movin!"
The three of us just stood and stared.
“What is it you actually want us to do, man?”
"E ba gum! If ow'ts worth doin', do it
yer sen!" Screaming and infuriated he began immediately to
scurry about the deck, deftly making a cunt-splice here
and a cringle there, tying then untying, pulling and
retying all manner of complex ropes and cables. A
performance so reminiscent of a vintage Peter Gabriel
stage show; one minute lying recumbent, then on all fours
or in a foetal position. The next moment he was up again
strutting awkwardly towards another task, singing all the
while with drool on his chin, before finally striding,
keep on trucking style, jubilant up to the bridge.
“Ahoy landlubbers, Thunderbirds are go!”
It was almost dark as we silently rounded the final creek and fir lined strand. We anchored some two hundred metres from a beach lit up by a mountainous fire and alive with a steady pounding reggae beat.
“Get doon, get doon too it Whoah, Haway
This music was the last word in smokers'
requisites, a whoop and then another, whoop! The
unmistakable blather of Mister Earl Gateshead MC and his
red beret Trojan Sound system resounded and entertained.
"Is everybody having a good time? I sure am, like you knew that I would now. Do the trouser press babies one, two, three!"
An estimated many thousands of revelling stoners filled the wintery beach with joy and delusion. The summertime bars, cafes and snacks had spontaneously reopened and were full to the brim. I watched it all with grim delight through Lister's precision and overpriced binoculars; Taz and Lozzi stoking the fire, a swarm of minor French celebrates; Beckham and Posh, a couple of Bonos and Dwight too if these night-lights serve me well. No wonder the police were holding back.
“Well what’s keepin yer? Go get them
girls Now!” An angry Lister, thumping his pigeon chest
with feeble fists of anguish. He was right of course but
there was no such immediacy about the thing. As far as I
could remember, there was just one fairly narrow road
leading up to this beach, which would no doubt be occupied
by several brigades of half cut Gendarmes trying to decide
what to do. The only escape route was by sea.
“No Lister,” I said in an overbearing tone. “Let’s wait and watch for a while, see how things pan out.”
The real reason for my reticence was of course fear of a tearful capping with the straw hat old Harrovian Gateshead, and I still owe him a tenner for a skew over a stupid game of slap-down patience we played in Tulse Hill back in the seventies.
Lister was not a man who liked taking orders; while preparing to chuck the life raft overboard he handed me the end of a long rope and said bewilderingly: “give it a good duck's arse crotchet to’t brigand bar and Il’l be back within’t ‘our wit’ lasses.”
He wasn't back within the hour and was never realistically expected to be so, for even though I did get the gist of his guidance to attach the rope firmly to a sturdy part of the boat, I did not, nor did I ever have any intention of doing so.
“Au revoir Lister and jolly good luck old fellow!”
Then we heard them, the dull and heavy low pitched rumpus of powerful engines; heard them clearly above or rather below his Lordship’s thumping bass strings and the rowdiness of the swinging throng.
“The bastard!” Eric screamed with real venom, "bastard bastard bastard!”
“Which particular one do you have in mind?” I enquired, trying to sound like a Gendarme.
“My fucking father that’s who!”
“Well you certainly do pick a good time for daddy issues don't you son?”
“No you retard! I mean my dad the Ministre de l’Interieur. He’s called in the Canadairs!”
“Called in the what?”
“The water bombers! In about ten minutes they'll be dropping millions of litres, right on the beach there. They’ll put out the fire and scatter them all in five seconds flat. Then they can just round everybody up at their leisure and its curtains for Tazzi and Loz.
We had just ten minutes then to sit and watch helplessly and wait for pandemonium; how many sandwiches for a taste of that?
”Well I’m jolly well not going to sit here doing nothing while those bounders try to spoil our fun!”
Just why Steve thought he was one of the famous five at this time is unclear, but with the help of his good chum Eric he had found a jolly big box of flary type things and began in earnest to light up the heavens.
What would I not have given a few years ago to be blissfully stoned on a Mediterranean beach under a bright tangerine sky unwittingly waiting for ten years' worth of rainfall to drop in one swoop from a funny little yellow aeroplane? But it was my beloved daughter out there, not me and I had only been slightly affected by the few scudding clouds of Nucky smoke that had drifted our way. I watched with a sullen fascination as the planes finally arrived and the bombardment began. These people, who I am sure would have stripped off and ced under the worst thunderstorm that mother nature could throw at them, were taken completely by surprise and Eric had been right; five seconds flat and it was all over, and Chester Burnett, you really are a bastard.
The three of us on board could not find words or even look much at each other, our heads buried deep in our hands. I even heard Eric sobbing pathetically, then I did hear something, very loud and very clear, what have they done to my fair daughter? I hear a very gentle sound, with my ear down to the ground.
Two very wet, stoned and gigglesome
girls thrashing around playfully in the water below.
“Dad! Maurin! Steve! One of you chuck us
a bleedin’ rope why don’t you?” ......."And a bloody
great gin and tonic just for me!"
Olmeta-di-Capocorso, May 2012.
Several whole months later I made a brief, but I have to admit, brazen return to my once adopted village to pick up a few assorted possessions, with gloves. My whole head and face shaved and my body embalmed with a professional smile. Even so many months later, all this is somehow just a dreadful memory, but I have so many dreadful memories. I think it would be for the best if I stopped writing now, for I believe that I made a mistake in even beginning to write in the first place. This work is not so much literature as penitential corrective punishment. If I have ruined my own life through moral neglect, gross indifference, alcoholic excess, and a little beer, how could that be of any interest to a casual reader?
A novel needs a hero, and all I seem to have written so far must have given a most unpleasant impression. In truth this whole thing is nothing but a large and pointless lie, a crude amalgam written in a shabby and pretentious way to form an incongruous whole which in any case could never come close to expressing my true feelings and discomfort.
It has been a couple of years since I took some sound advice and headed down to Dover to board 'The Spirit of Britain', just a day or two before the scat finally hit Lady Windermere's fan, this was not just a have it away day return trip, it was un aller simple. (One way ticket yeah, trans.)
Two years in the hole. I have lost my wife and most of my money and some would say a huge part of my mind. But I still have the feeling that we are all debauched and so removed from a life that we feel a positive loathing for it and and I'm sure we are all privately agreed that life is much better in newspaper reports, films or on television. In fact I don't even know what living means anymore, what it is or why they even have a name for it.
I approached the little village with great caution in a Europcar silver C3. Car 76. Then I saw the new sign. "Provence, land of rosé wine for 2600 years." I wondered if finally, Les Couillons had got it right at last. I had my doubts.
At first the loud banging just sounded like another car backfiring, or a merry hunter chasing a hog, but then both my front tyres went down in rapid succession and I skidded to a halt.
An officer in blue just stood placidly by the car and bid me to wind down my window and remain seated. "Please allow me to introduce myself." He announced in a monotone. "My name is Staff-Sergeant Freemon and I beg your pardon for my boys having taken such pot shots in your direction. May we inquire whom we have the honor to address?"
I looked at the nasty soldier coolly and spoke to him sadly through my small red eyes. "I am Melvin. Why did you shoot me?"
"In a nutshell, for exceeding the speed limit Mister Melvin."
"I was not not traveling at much more than normal speed."
"What was normal yesterday is no longer normal today, Mr. Melvin, whatever speed a motorcar travels is always too great. "
"Are you shooting every one of them, without distinction"
"Certainly we are Sir. Orders are orders. It used to be a sport, firing with 'nite-lites' from the turrets of the station, today its point blank, fined on the spot.'
The quizzling looked at me funny and asked me if by any chance I had been on a spree. "Not in the last twenty four hours." I replied honestly enough, "but as you have mentioned it, it had been my intention to embark on one this very evening, you know, drink the pubs all dry all dry?"
"As you wish. But allow me to inform you that this particular exploit has been accomplished already and I'm afraid you will find yourself out of luck."
I have never understood how a man would want to be a be a Gendarme and I told him so. "You make your living by fining people in a quite arbitrary manner and for the most part trivial offences and you do this only on rather pleasant days when it is neither too hot or raining a little. You do all this just for a little pocket money. Isn't that so?"
"It is, my salary is poor, I have a family and a fat Labrador to feed, but I do my duty."
With a shudder I stared at his dog forsaken looks and stony brow and the costly mountings of his spectacles, the stark hair and the cool pale shimmer of his complexion. The cold that streamed from every pore was deathly and yet it rang, it vibrated. It was music. Beetlebum. Hadn't I once felt this shudder before? The Brass Monkey Concerto in F Major by the Beastie Boys. Ugh what a shudder. You bastard Sir!
My second surprise of the day was to see a brand new and rather beautiful petrol station. Well not really, it was more like a solitary Twin Peaks lumber yard pump with bank card stickers. No free pizzas or wifi yet as far as I could see, but this was definitely progress.
A little further on, as my little hire car limped and lurched on forward, I was flapped down by half a dozen hopper arsed Gendarmes, dressed in synthetic pale blue spring-cleaned uniforms waving huge fluorescent batons in my direction. Every citizen of Les Couillons, I was politely informed, is now required to apply for and carry on his person at all times a Laissez-Passer. As a tourist I was requested firmly to squeeze my car into a small muddy area between the waste disposal unit and the sewage works and proceed on foot to pursue my visit and be sure to buy an ice-cream. "Be warned" however said an officer.
"All Citizens are subject to be stopped in the street at any time by my men who might be in plain clothes or in various blue uniforms, but always wearing sunglasses and spanking new boots, never the same pair twice."
I strolled into town, the town that had been my home for many a long year, the town I knew so well was a complete stranger to me now. All the benches had been removed the fountains turned off, all the cafés and bars were closed. Alcohol could only be obtained with a special permit, and could not be sold or given or in anyway transferred to anyone else, and the presence of two people in conversation was considered prima facie evidence of conspiracy to inebriation. Birdy Namnam was still sixty-two.
All flowers and trees had been destroyed and hundreds of rocks the size and shape of small pyramids had been placed anywhere and everywhere that a car could be parked or a bicycle reasonably chained. No unsightly vehicles were to be seen on the attractive streets. For in Les Couillons a stately car park had she decreed. Entry into this pleasure dome required a further portfolio of identification documents and new types of papers were required daily. The citizens rushed from one bureau to another in a frenzied attempt to meet impossible demands, in order to park their cars.
Nightfall: search-lights scour the town, a lone helicopter sweeps the streets incessantly; no one is permitted to lock his door and no one of course is allowed the use of curtains, shutters or blinds. The police have pass keys anyway to every house in the village. Accompanied by a scrutineer, they barge into someone's quarters and rummage away to their heart's content.
I stood outside my own home, Chez Steve, and looked up at the window. No one was watching me. No one ever looked at anyone else anymore.
Now I have done what I have done for my own pleasure and amused myself as best I could. No sorrow weighs on me, but within an hour of my return I long to be away; where, I do not know, but far away, perhaps back in in Corsica with my daughter and friends or perhaps an alpine retreat or more sensibly, Eastbourne.
When I first I came here, this was a simple place. I sold drugs to truck-drivers and teenagers. Ludo and Borello welcomed curious tourists and job-seekers in short blue blouses; masons in white jackets, house painters in overcoats or over long smocks. Every morning a vagrant crowd of men in neutral hue composed chiefly of faded blue and gray, sipping coffee and smoking "Marl-bo-ro" had their eyes continually drawn towards big rusty old vans which appeared as from nowhere, swallowed them up and took them away, one by one. Quiet people lived quiet lives. Then suddenly everything changes. No, my place is in the woods, in solitude, but I may as well have a merry hour or two even so. Time stands still, and I cannot understand how it can stand so still. I am out of the service, as free as a fool, all is well; I meet people, eat breakfast and every now and again I shut one eye and shout with one finger up in my ear; I tickle myself under the chin, and think that it laughs broadly at being so tickled. All things smile. I pop a cork and call for people. "Steve, an errand; find us some people and let's have us a fancy party!" Then I remembered that he was still waiting for me in a bar at the airport.
But why in God's name do those damned Gendarmes still make fresh enquiries about this bloody Ralph man? To tell the truth, I am not surprised that his sister should still keep on seeking information; for Ralph was in many ways an uncommon and splendid man. I said that out of fairness, but what an obvious and stupid lie it was. Ralph will always be repellant to my soul and the bare memory of him arouses hatred. He was an original man, with a deeply unpleasant manner and this town ain't big enough for the both of us. (Sparks, trans.) When he looked at you with his cold animal eyes, you could not but feel his evil; even I felt it. His taste in cars however was quite frankly beyond reproach.
It still annoys me though to be constantly seeing their advertisements pinned about the town offering such and such reward for information about a missing man. Ralph may have been killed by accident, shot by accident, caught in the crossfire when out on a hunting trip with a private party of overseas visitors. He may have gone back to Essex, or been stabbed with a pitchfork, mauled by wild boar, gone a wandering, but frankly who cares? The court entered his name in a register with all the particulars. His naked body had not been found in a manure heap in an advanced state of decay, the gangster of love had just gone missing. The Police posters made him look rather like a footman in a musical review that fancied a night walk in the pouring rain in his best coat. But really, which part of the word "missing" do they not understand? He was gone with good riddance, but his gorgeous little GTL was still safely parked in Cogolin. The metallic gold bodywork had transformed into a rich and flawless scarlet, and now I get to keep it. Let that be an end to it.
Car park Cogolin, January 2014.