Sing Along With The Common People

New year, new year’s resolution: drink more beer. Less of the namby pamby, tea and coffee madness, more good old fashioned lightly chilled exquisite and invigorating beer.

A year or two back, one icy January morning I vowed to give up alcohol completely. I am now sure this must be the origin of the French expression: Un quart d’heure difficile. This year it is going to be different, Mr Apollo himself could not even hope to bend my iron will, nor ever again restrain me from peering over walls.

Plato the Greek may have said “It was a wise man who invented beer.” But It is unlikely. Sounds a lot more like Homer Simpson really. A smart invention though, it has to be said, also a great leveller. Even the stinkiest, richest bastard can only drink thirty or so pints of the stuff a day, so despite his wealth, he really is no better off than me, which would be pretty difficult anyway, given the extent of my own personal beer allowance.

Regrettably, In my sober matinée hours, I myself am not a wise man, I have actually no idea where I should go to buy beer, or anything else for that matter; food and drink in my shop-less haven of a village are at worst served by my daughter, at best in the Bar de la Mairie, but Ludo and Magnetto are closed for their annual holiday. A busman’s holiday I’ll be bound.

Fortunately I do have a couple of very sharp witted friends who pop into my head from time to time. Little BSD, the Beer Swilling Devil would be a good chap to ask, faithful server and a cute little bugger in those horrid green sneakers, thoroughly reliable and comes with coherent documentation too.

Go to Lidl my friend, there you will find a splendid range of quality lagers, continental pilseners and much other beery goodness, all at very reasonable prices. Go, go now and bring me back a case of whatever is on special…”


Screams the shiny smug unstable penguin that has installed itself uncomfortably on my laptop,

“Lidl? For a start you’ll have to rebrand it to avoid copyright issues. Dillmart in all its configurations Rodney is the axis of evil! One of the worst rated employers in Europe, robbers they are, cheap chandlers and manipulative bar stewards. Don’t go. Go instead to your nearest wine cooperative, support local business and agriculture, buy some cheap wine and feel better about yourself.”

“Thanks Tux but today, beer is what I need. Dillmart it is.”

“Ok mate, but steer clear of the Fink Brau, shame in a bottle…”

Hypocritical little git. I really should have stuck with trusty old XP.

I would never have thought that a town as well-heeled and golden slippered as Sainte Maxime would accept to host one of these unmentionable establishments, but it does, wait a second, there’s one in Cogolin too, that’s a bit closer, what an app! These places are everywhere. So off I go, beer bound, over the hills and not so far away. Well I found the place all right, that was the easy part. I climbed out of Collobrieres and dropped down towards Grimaud and there it was, the filthy great sign in the sky, LIDL! There I found hordes of curious looking people milling around in the car park from hell, pushing and pulling on pram like things with tiny, tiny wheels, some piled high with groceries, some completely empty. I found this perturbing, a bit bizarre in fact, why do people dress that way? I hung around anyway to study them, look for a pattern, some logic, and then finally I worked it out. They go in one door with an empty barrow, then appear a bit later through an adjacent one with the darned thing full, looked like a lot of fun.

I spotted a makeshift shelter with lots of these wheelie things all crushed together, so I wander over to get one for myself. Judas Priest! They’re all chained up, what the diable? I stood there despondent, scratching my head and feeling perplexed, when out of nowhere a lady with soft, dove-grey eyes like funeral tapers took pity on me and firmly pressed a Euro coin in my hand saying ,

“Allez mon vieux, payez-vous quelques canettes avec ca!”

How on earth had she got wind of my mission?

Soon I was deep in the soup with my very own professional perambulator; slip the coin in the slot and voila! How can they sell them so cheaply? I tried to focus, I was looking for beer, the place was busy, full of biffos, hard to navigate. These trolley things may be dirt cheap but that’s no reason to abandon them, half full in the middle of the aisles. I seemed to be going round in circles, up and down, round and round, looking here, looking there, searchin’ everywhere and then I was struck by a moment of pure intoxication and blindfold revelation, after all these years of wondering, at last. This was a supermarket and I was all lost in it. Why had the song made no sense to me before?

I found the beer in the end and really, I could not believe my eyes as they darted between big cans of Larsullrichbrau and huge bottles of Rammestein before settling contentedly on a stack of genuine English Old Scrotum Ale. Two for the price of one no less. Free beer! Just wait till I get to tell the sanctimonious little penguin about this…I duly began to load my wheeliebarrow with just as many bottles that would fit without breakage, I got to 359 and had to stop, I could always come back the next day…

I teetered off delighted towards the out door. Of course I had every intention of paying for them, how dare any of you think otherwise? I just wasn’t quite sure of the procedure, as I’ve said before, my unwisdom in these matters are  pearls. Then I spotted the queuing ahead of me, barring the way to the exit. So this is how it’s done. Ha! Ha! The goods you have selected pass grudgingly along a sort of conveyor belt until they are picked up by a blue-uniformed inmate who presents them to a primitive scanning device which then emits a high-frequency and annoying error message bleep bleep. I could hardly wait for my turn.

When I did finally get on more intimate terms with Amandine, the angel in blue, she gave me what is possibly the dirtiest look I have ever encountered and said in a dreary French monotone:

“please have the goodness to place all the items in your ‘caddy’ on the belt.”


I said pleasantly, wishing I had a lapel badge too, I am Rodney, how may I help you? But handing her a selection of credit cards I said:

“you count. There are 359 of them, word of a gent.”

She repeated her demand as if it were a recording but added nastily,

“I have to check that you are not trying to nick something.”

Nick something! How can someone called Amandine be such a hard faced bitch? I tried again to reason with her and softly recited the touching lyrics from my new favourite song, looking for sympathy.

“There was a wall back in the suburbs, over which I never could see.”

She was unmoved, intransigent and horribly dumb.

“Please have the goodness to place all the items in your ‘caddy’ on the belt or I will be obliged to call the overseer.”

I remained calm and withdrawn, explaining that the green thing in my hand was an American Express card and that she was supposed to say “Tres tres bien Monsieur.”

In response to my perceived retardation, she grabbed a handy microphone and before I knew it she was braying,

“Monsieur Warwick Hunt is required at check-out three, Monsieur Warwick Hunt!”

Within seconds a mean looking fat guy in over tight green pants and a crumpled white shirt was greasing himself through the crowds in my direction. For a moment I was convinced it was Peter Griffin, puffing and panting as he approached. Imagine my surprise and discomfort when I realised it wasn’t Griffin at all, it was Bono! It was, it was really him, slightly plumper than I remembered, but definitely Bono, not a word of a lie. When he saw me his face lit up with a professional smile.

“Quel honneur! Monsieur X”, he proceeds in his inimitable where the fuck do I come from brogue.

“I find you here in our own humble, err,” looking aflake at my pickings…..Beer Depot? The beers are on me!” He bellowed with evident pleasure, for all the world as if he were the Milky Bar Kid.

After all these years in hiding, all these years of unspecified gallivanting, there had finally been a sighting; Bono positioned me in a Lidl! Can you believe that!? Like a captive bound in leather thongs, I  shall mingle no more.

I was off, as fast as my portly legs and the encumbered caddy would allow me, resolving to start growing a long shaggy beard the moment I got home. Just as the mechanical doors slipped open, I turned to take one last look. Bono, smirking stupidly, thoughtlessly, one hand upheld his beardless chin, said boldly,

“I see you have the same problem with your trousers as I do.”

This I took to mean, I won’t tell on you if you keep closemouthed about me.”







It Ain’t Necessarily Titties And Beer

Steve made a new year’s resolution too, not quite as infallible as my own and not quite a new year’s resolution either, more like something he should have done years ago: spend his wife’s cash. He invited me and my daughter Taz to join him at his least favourite and most exclupensive restaurant in Saint Tropez: La Vieille Arnaque.

“With vitality, if not with pleasure” I replied blithely, “as long as we are to go on two wheels, not four.”

Steve agreed on the moped way even though he had planned on taking the pink Hummer. Not just because we were going to Saint-Trop, but ‘lest we should hit upon a huge flock of sheep on the way.’ Yes he did mean hit upon, sick bastard, but that’s Steve for you. He has seen the needle and the damage done is distressingly, irreparable.

It was the middle of the afternoon by my desktop clock set to seventy-five per cent fuzziness, so we reckoned that if Taz left on her Harley at early evening, we should all meet up at the restaurant at eight o’ clock sharp. We did.

A word here about Steve’s wife Tammy may be of interest. She is currently wintering in California, as just the thought of wearing a woolly jumper sends a chill all the way down to her butt. Woolly bully. Her one mediocre country-pop  album from the late seventies “It Ain’t Necessarily Titties And Beer” has assured her a totally disproportionate and steady income ever since. Steve hates the bitch, but being British, all I can say is that I’m not frightfully fond of you either darling.

As we entered the crowded restaurant the diners fell instantly silent, possibly due to Taz in her skin-tight let’s talk about leather outfit accompanied by two middle-aged weirdos,  But no, it was in Steve’s honour. The hush turned into a rustle of tasteful applause with a few hoorays and bravos added to emphasize the approval.

Why do I always forget that Steve is what is commonly known as a Genius in France? A much mocked and derided figure in his homeland, yet nothing short of a hero in this land of lovely cheese and laughable biscuits. In his heyday Steve had apparently been a wildly unsuccessful professional bicycle rider whose exploits in the Tour de France in the eighties had gone largely unnoticed in the rest of the world but the French had placed him high on a pedestal, all the better to admire his magnificent calves.

I quickly realised that Steve’s real motive for coming out on the town tonight was to cheer himself up. Not only had he been a little under the weather over the holidays, but “I haven’t seen a fellow American since the last time I dyed my hair”, he lamented pathetically as we were at table expecting a waiter to appear and be flattering. Taz was no better, the sour puss, but at least her reasons were more justified. A little sad because one of her school friends had upped and betrothed her good-self to some jerk called Lister and was currently cruising on his monster yacht, The Turpitude, somewhere in the Algarve. Totally postal about the acts of vandalism and crass criminality which had been committed on our precious guerilla cannabis plantation a couple of days previously. Someone or something had completely ground-zeroed the place and she now had the daunting prospect of a life without weed for the dimly foreseeable future. I felt for her.

We had already decided on our order from the neatly scrawled bistrot chalkboard: Steve would have the woozy numbat with brisures of crystal meth. I would opt for the saber-toothed squirrel with candied sorbs and cork oak acorns.

Taz still in the dumps would just have, “a packet of crisps and a pint of what Beckham over there is drinking”.

When Patrick, our waiter for the evening did come to take our order and be pleasing, he produced a crocodile tear as I mentioned the squirrel,

“It’s the last one sir!” he sobbed.

“Fine by me” I returned casually.

“I mean the very last one in existence Monsieur”

“Even better”, I quipped, “the squirrelling must go on and I will surely be mentioned in school text books.”

I knew he was just kidding, who doesn’t know that saber-toothed squirrel is the codename for the Linux kernel 3.2-rc1?

As for the the matter of drinks, Taz got her pint of Pur Absolut crap and Steve and I were to share a dozen bottles of Chateau Sainte Anne de la Regurgitation. Oh the French! Why can’t they just call it Chateau Chunder like everybody else? Saint-Tropez is the only place in the world where you can buy the stuff and was the principal reason for choosing the mopeds to get here, and back!

I should mention here that as the food arrived, Steve committed the most unthinkable and loutish faux-pas by requesting tomato ketchup. Now don’t expect a repetition of a similar scene in the Naked Lunch, this is France remember; no the waiter complied with a grin. It was I in fact who was trembling, with my fingers crossed under the table, please laddie let it be the 57 varieties variety and not a home made apology made with real organic tomatoes and balsamic bleeding vinegar.

All was going down nicely, my little treetop flyer was delectable, Steve’s favourite condiment had passed muster and even Taz was a bit more chatty. Emerging slowly from her own dystopian universe, which she had named “Jeans North”, she was imploring me to tell the story about spotting Bono moonlighting in that awful cheapskate supermarket,

“Please daddy, again! Again! Just one more time, Pleeeese!”

This peaceful scene of familiar self-indulgence was violently interrupted when the restaurant doors crashed open and some guy walks in with a monstrous wild boar slung across his shoulders. He stood there staring disdainfully at us all and left the door wide open behind him. He was requested, rather politely I thought, to “fermez la porte!” But he just stood there looking more disgusted than ever. As if it were perfectly normal for a man to be standing with a 200 pound pig round his neck but totally unacceptable to enter a room without saying bonjour and closing the door, the demands for him to do so continued unabated. Finally the man spoke:

“This place is so full of bullshit, I won’t close the door until you’ve all had a blast of clean sea air.”

He was staring at the chalkboard and for a moment I thought he was going to spit on it, but he just shook his head sadly and dropped the hog noisily to the ground.

Poor Taz was quite at the end of her tether,

“Shut the fucking door, Retard!”

To which he replied, with maybe just a hint of sarcasm:

“Well if I’d known that The Idiot Bastard Sons of Anarchy were here, why, I would have closed it long ago.”

Our fame was spreading then? The man was gone, leaving all at our table to believe that this brief interlude had been a kind of dream, not to say hallucination.

“What an extraordinary fellow”, I thought and said at the same time, “hippy douche” Steve agreed laconically, Taz said he reminded her of a sheep on meth. If this was all in our imaginations though, why was it taking six grown men to drag that huge slobbering beast into the back kitchens?

The soiree was drawing to a drowsy conclusion, it was time for getting drunk and kick starting mopeds, but we were all out of wine. It did end though on a more cheerful note, the number of zeros on the bill were way in excess of our wildest attempts at thinking up numbers and doubling them, even the ketchup had reached three figures. It was a happy Steve then that handed over Tammy’s charge card to the beaming waiter.

When one doorway to happiness opens another one slams in your face, Patrick had surreptitiously slipped a scrap of paper to Taz with a handwritten message from the dead pig guy:

“If you want your bike back, come to my place in the morning, ask anyone for Chez Maurin………”

That’s Horse-Shit !

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.

“Did you know that a big legged woman ain’t got no soul?”

“That’s just hearsay Steve I interrupted, and by the way, did you know that….”

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.

We woke Taz with what must have felt like a bucket of very cold water, “We need to get your bike back.”

The directions to “Chez Maurin” sounded simple enough,

“Head back towards Collobrieres, turn left at the sequoia then just keep following the track for about three kilometres, you can’t miss it.”

I didn’t expect those 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 pedalled 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 Napoleonic records from 1815, even the local authorities tended to say ‘aw who gives a toss anyway?’  So it was legal, but not really, a dwelling place but not a house, it didn’t really exist at all. But it did.

The tiny home was set in quite a sizeable clearing in the otherwise densely overgrown cork forest, here were happily browsing critters: two donkeys, a handful of sheep and a couple of greedy goats. A huge parasol pine hung immobile over the house and its vast terrace, overlooking, I will spare you a clichéd 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 douchebaggery.

Taz had had enough of our admiring procrastination and was about kick down the door with a vicious boot.

“Just give me my bike back butt head!”

She had 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 handsome thief. “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. 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 abominable “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!” Smiling broadly.

I forgot to mention that by this time, I myself was feeling absolutely bloody fantastic, as strong as an ox and wiser than the wise cheese man in Wisconsin, whose name, sadly, escapes me. 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 goats 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 wilfully 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 chomped and slurped away into a despicable 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 out rather unexpectedly,

“you know, the Idiot Bastard Sons of Anarchy, I want in!”

Steve looked at him crossly and informed 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 famous tests?”

“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?

“Come on daddy”, said Maurin peevishly,

“give us a break? I don’t know what your tests are, but give me a chance won’t you?” Speaking quite seriously now “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 don’t file. I don’t pay utility bills and I certainly don’t vote. I 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….”

“Get on with it Dad,” Tazzy all excited.

“Right, which band had a 1970 hit with Up Yours!?”

“The Edgar Broughton Band sir.” He answered without hesitation to a massive round of applause from all of us.

“Let’s move on quickly to the practical part, any good at riding mopeds?”

Maurin’s 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 stony field, blindfold rolling a fresh joint at the same time? 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 on his own?

“Maurin” said Steve gravely, “which band would habitually wind up their concerts with an extended jam called “Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout?”

“Ladies and gentlemen I’d like you to give a big hand to The Pink Fairies!”

“And what about Harry’’s toenail?” Taz asked with a little grin, and all he said was “Gnidrolog”. Which surprised me.

Speaking Of Cheese Sandwiches.

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. That’s one of the reasons I decided to drink more beer, give fate a helping hand. So far I have managed to lose a highly expensive 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 Taz was living in a single room with two other individuals, one of them was male and the other, Well hell, the other one! I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that all three of them habitually smoke marijuana cigarettes. Reefers!

Steve and Taz, like the spoilt little five year-olds that they are had refused to leave Maurin’s party, she was going to stay put with her precious Nucky Balls and he claimed that the sea air was so exhilarating and the hill climbs so much more of a challenge. Good luck to them both if they wanted to spend their days getting stoned and shooting things for food and profit, I at least could concentrate on my new found hobbies of shopping and drinking, although everyone knows that beer ain’t really drinkin’.

Dillmart had rekindled my love of beer and given me a completely different conception of how to buy things that I didn’t even know existed, let alone wanted, and then try to stuff them into my saddlebags. One day I decided to be a little moreI adventurous and head towards a monstrous Centre commercial on the outskirts of Toulon. My days of hurriedly scoffing a solitary Plat du Jour in one of the village eateries would be well and truly behind me, but I could be sure that all the staff in these places would just be as ill-mannered and offensive. Wouldn’t you be if you had to work in one of them?

I am glad that once again I 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. IKEA? Now what the heck could that stand for? I Knew Eamonn Andrews? I, Kierkegaard, Existentialist Asshole? Speaking of cheese sandwiches……As I pulled up right outside the tacky building, I was pleased to see that cigarette smoking was finally back in fashion, everybody desprately patting each of theirtheir pockets in turn searching for a packet, lighting up, relieved and drawing hard; as if the jury had just reached its verdict. What on earth was behind those revolving doors? I had to find out.

Anyone who 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 for meatballs beer and Brussels sprouts. I had of course wearied of looking at the bosh they had on display and 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. It’s fun to be clean, its nice to be neat, for people are happy when they are neat and they are clean. Everyone has their own personal methods of stress management, mine is singing.

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 gallant 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 its a present for Steve”.

“Take a fucking blue one!”

Said Kevin with polish. Fearing another microphone incident, I took a fucking blue one and rushed outside for a smoke.

Next stop, after a bit of mischievous jay-walking; Decathlon, 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 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. I wasted a good half an hour hanging about in the reception area looking for freebies until I finally agreed with a white shirt black pants walkie-talkie guy that I should move on. “What no pencils!” 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’d better tell you now, that I suggested 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 and buggered off, crafty little so and so. So here I was more than tipsy, 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 a murderous dagger and a real gun? A gay golf pro, an overweight jockey or a paramedic scuba-diver? 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 Dick Head. Hoorah for Rodney!

I got home late, very late. A punk stopped me on the street and said:

” Have you got a light Mac?”

I said .

“No, but I’ve got a plastic watering can, a shiny pink leisure suit with ‘OM! Droit au But!’ written all over it and a blue shopping bag. ‘Ere, you can have it. Not a patch on the ones you get in Dillmart.”

Give Cheese A Wide Berth

April, really can be the cruellest of months. When you’re lost in the rain in this hole and its Eastertime too, the one thing thing you really do not need is a visit from long lost and totally forgotten people who sincerely believe they played a major part in one of your previous lives. Every year about this time come the telephone calls, no not 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 are on you doorstep and, excuse the bad English, in your face.

Here was the leading lady, Phyllis MacFarlane “How absolutely farcically adorable to see you too!” Words would actually fail if were asked to relate the ten days or so I recently spent trying to avoid this year’s fearless batch of cut price spring breakers at my expense. 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 quite lovely and picturesque village of Collobrieres rather early this morning and found the little house that our dear friend Rodney had recommended quite easily, despite the jet-lag. We had seen the website 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 dogs and heavy hammers 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 so he had his laptop hooked up and was already perusing The Pirate Bay 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 omelette 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 and of course roast chestnuts.

As for the movie, he had settled on “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls”, for some strange reason, 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 telecharge Johnny Halliday or his kidney.No, ilk. 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 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 omelette 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, tobacconist 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, spicy sausages and tortillas, omelettes by any other name, I wouldn’t get away with that. No Way. We did pop in for a drink or two though. Julian the owner is such a sweetie, sooh! attentive, I really think he should rename it The Dewdrop Inn, or better, The Dude Drop In, that would be really sweet.

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 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 aperitif 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,

“We’re not 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 specialities were onion tart, local goatee 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; fleisch, fleisch, fliesch! Osso Bucco!

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. It did have thankfully, a traditional Spanish tapas bar attached as well. Two of those in one small French village, odderer and odderer, still, 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 Bennet! How do those people do it? She 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 rumoured 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 hurried on. That dog really did stink.

I recalled 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 Goertz could possibly make pizzas in a wood-burning oven in his little van on the gas station forecourt! 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 still ringing…..”Allo Pizza!” At last. “Hi! Deux calzone mit extra formaggio, keine fliesch und molto capers por favor.” How well do I speak French after a few Drinks?

Goertz was 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! 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 favourite. 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 now, trying to tweak a dual boot of Slackware 3.1 and Minix. The only lilo configuration that interests me however 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 on an ancient borrowed mobylette from Collobrieres to Le Lavandou to bronze my glorious butt on a broad fat and virtually empty sandy beach and return with an oversized gallon jar of equally fabulous rose wine, served petrol pump style from a brilliant vineyard that I pass on the way.

This is paradise, the gadda da vida. I had grave doubts 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 formed, a kind of existentialist stroke nihilist association of middle-aged and world weary gentlemen who have tried, but no longer give a hooey about anything in particular, he told me quite seriously, that “space, time and motion were mere suppositions and life itself was but an ‘allucination”. He and his funny friend Steve seem more like naughty little boys 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 Rupert, always have, but the low spark of these moped boys? Men in suits can buy proper cars you know Rod.

Anyway, enough of that. Good morning, I’d care to purchase a chicken please. We have settled right down to the kind of a bread cheesy and wine 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 sozzled is not the place for me to be right now.

Ted has got his laptop sorted out; all this way for a dual boot? What’s wrong with the friendly old IRC channel? Use your own, you great poofy poonagger. Rodney, ever the diploma, cut at last to the cheese:”F@#K! off back to Clovis and leave me alone.” For he has great work still to accomplish, here in Collobrières. Tough titties if he didn’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, we 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. What the hell is Minnix?


Moderate Or Poor?

The evening before that most dreaded of parties I dropped by at Maurin’s with the pretence of needing to finalize some important paperwork for his admission to our club. I had to add just kidding mate, pretty damned quick, or I think he really would have shot me.

I was, how can I put it? Mildly surprised to see Taz in the distance wielding a large orange axe with seldom seen dexterity, chopping a little wood for the fire. I said “Hi Taz”, she replied “Hi dad”, 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!

“The great Steve Milliband has finally made it home and if I’m lucky, I might get some sense out of him.

“Howdy Steve.”

“Bonjour Nelson.”

“Great ride today Steve!”

“Oui, oui! bon ride aujourd’hwee, trez bon.” 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 etait trop fort 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 fait Nelson, oui, oui, exactement….”

“Steve, can you confirm the rumours that the boys in town call you mellow Jell-o?”

” Oui, oui and quite rightly.”

“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 dans this world, first le income tax and then pourquoi le cycling est 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, 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: “Tell me a little something about yourself old chap” or “Good morning, I’d like to talk to you about browsers.” Nothing I could think of sounded quite right and if I practised 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 tajine with dried figs and apricots accompanied by an original but quite delicious sweet chestnut cousicous, or something lie that.

Steve began a jam-fisted 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.

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:

“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?”


I murmured crossly, but it was only a scratch. All right, if this was how he wanted it, fine.

“I’m Rodney. Skirvishely by name and nature, heir abhorrent, and it would be me that asks the questions…..Dillo.”

Sensing my reluctance and dedication to the absurd he asked only that I tell him why I was here, in France, with my lovely daughter and the wackjob? I could see no real reason to deny myself the pleasure of telling a 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, but I asked him anyway. ‘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 Collobrières, 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!”

“That’s not quite the same story Miss Pinky your daughter told me the other night”. The 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……”

Infidels! But my lips were sealed, he would not get another word out of me until I had enjoyed his riposte. How dare he call her miss Pinky anyway?

“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 and had been a heart surgeon at the Hôpital La Timone and later a deputé……No not a Bo Diddely deputy sheriff…” He 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. 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.”

“Well that was a pretty good start”, I was thinking, “go on Maurin, please…”

“I did try school for quite a number of years” 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 as I 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 or 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 something they have seen or heard before, usually from a man called Patrick who lives in a great big screen in their lurid sitting rooms.”

“This can’t be true!” I belched incredulous, “what about all this we hear about their system being the best in the world and the famous bacca something or other Eh?”

“I’m afraid it is true Rod, and for them it is the best mass educational system in the whole wide. Why? Because by basing the entire thing on the ability or not to master an impossible language, 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 meagre 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. There is a hidden fourth group, who are referred to as ‘Beurs’, but they don’t count, they’re put away, out of sight in special places.”

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 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.

“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 relish 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….

Once this formality was over she had outlined what she considered to be a distinctly cunning plan: 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 finally he would be fed on a diet of British sit-coms and soaps and would be expected to re-enact Monty Python sketches, verbatim, every morning at breakfast. As for the minor subjects, he chose suburban property prices, Mediterranean holidays and an option to speak knowledgeably on all things related to cars, paying particular attention to lying about great deals on air conditioning and heated leather upholstery. He voluntarily passed on reading the tabloid newspapers and eating baked beans and spam for breakfast, dinner or tea.

“So what exactly are you doing here and now in this place? Why did you never go to England, you would have blended in so easily?”

I asked him without really expecting or caring about the reply, the Nucky Balls had left me happy 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 or even that much about football! He just enjoyed the quiet life with all the good things thrown in for free. He loved his freedom and would specifically recommend an ASP219 retractable baton to anybody who tried to tell him how to live his life.

He did have one last thing to ask me, and as the night was getting on and we had a big day ahead of us.”Just tell me, please Rodney”. As I was slipping out of the smoky heavens of Erewhon into the enticing land of nod I’m quite sure I heard him say, “The one thing I really don’t understand after all those years of studying sport, pop music and and television, I still don’t get it…….Bob Wilson, anchorman?”

I Like To Party, Party…

How gorgeous are we? The Idiot Bastard Sons and one of their daughters swept obtrusively into the old port of Saint-Tropez in the most delectable 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 Mobylettes. 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.” 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 that parties of this nature inevitably lead to unseemly behaviour, quarrelling, 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 on 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 to examine them closely, picked one up and sniffed it attentively and after having identified it correctly as chair à saucisse alla puttanesca, produced a knife and cut them into twelve bite sized morsels, wandered over to a refrigerated display for six bottles of rosé that covered the entire pinky spectrum from the palest salmon to a much deeper grenadine, then two pristine glasses before he asked me if I was ready for one of his famous organaleptique experiences.

“Ready Marcel” I replied nervously, fearing for my organs as the gobbling began. We nibbled at the truly disgusting mouthfuls of Britain and sniffed swirled and gargled through these explosively nosed bottles of blush, before finally deciding on a cantankerous Château Carrubier from a nearby and much maligned vineyard, agreeing also that it would be a short lived romance, divorced before the clock struck twelve. No matter, Marcel quickly chilled out a dozen bottles and I could hardly wait to find out how they would get along with the pork pies, roasted peanuts 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 leapt back on board as if I was walking on to a yacht, sans the apricot neck-wear of course, but carrying a big box of wine. Lister had made an effort by playing a not so easy listening eighties disco mix tape on his multi-knobbed 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 described as a handful of fancily 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 get together, just a gathering, a happening! But sadly no kazoos, tin-whistles or jaw’s harps. Bum steer. This was no party at all until Maurin finally decided to become its 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 a main? No, not this boy.

“I got a brand new game  I wanna lay down to you! This is a heptahedron,”

He told us straight,

“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 dependant 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 will decide 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 mumbled gravely, “someone will have to go to Marcel’s cheese and wine shop and present him with a freshly scraped dog turd, then ask deadpan to suggest a suitable wine to go with it.” Not exactly comedy central 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 my compliments”.

I gotta 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 Lidl!” 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 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 you’re 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 derisively, ” ‘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 Lidl bound, hell bent on thievery, 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. Great daft wazzocks indeed.

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 then 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 fucking stoned.

The poor misfortunate 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 Lidl, 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”.

Staring ghoulishly now at a fraught and furious Lister.

“Done deal. 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 could not help himself from laughing, but 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 Sacramento.

“Take a look at this!” From a pocket he produced a slim but dense volume, entitled “The Lidl Black Book”, sub-titled “The Absolute Bastards Guide To Fast Moving Consumer Goods And I Ain’t Talking Ferraris.”

Game on! 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. 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, 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. “Now listen to me Sir,” 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 “Nudity” once more: he stammered, “There has been a deplorable recrudescence of nakedness 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; “One moment Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly have you been smoking to come in here undressed like that?”

Undressed, nonplussed but stoned out of his tiny, Lister turned again. “Why, Nucky Balls sir, 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 my 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 ‘ he 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. Beserk 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.

“Noow 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 leader’s vest. This is Steve Milliband 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 karaoke bar that Maurin knew of and sing daft French tearjerkers and what was left of Lister’s money should more or less cover the drinks.

“But what about Lidl and those poor starving children?” Taz enquired sweetly. Steve broke into an engaging textbook laugh that I would never have dreamed his was capable of Lidl? Lidl? Still laughing, “what makes you think I actually went to Lidl? I found that piece 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?”

And He Was Gone… Pschitt!

July. Our adventures on and around the Turpitude are now distant, vague, yet cherished memories; if folks like Lister and Lozzi didn’t exist, you’d have to bleedin’ well invent them, arf, arf. The unspeakably hot and to my mind wholly unacceptable Provençal summer days are nevertheless a great excuse for the respected elders of IBSA 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 eggshell mind of his.

 Quite wrongly of course,  he had attributed to me the coining of the crudely amusing axiom:

“If an Englishman’s home is his castle, An American’s is his hassle.”

He then resolved to take immediate remedial action. It sounded much more like a half-baked fortune cookie to me and I told him so. By strange coincidence he also claimed to have partially unravelled the famous Da Selbi Code (sic). He meant of course O’’Brian’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.”

“Da Selbi has some interesting things to say on the subject of houses.”

Steve told me excitably.

“A row of houses he regards as a row of necessary evils. The softening and degeneration of the human race he attributes to the progressive predilection for interiors and waning interest in the art of going out and staying there.”

With this in mind, Steve had elected his new domicile in a fallen and naturally hollowed out sweet chestnut stump 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 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, one of life’s better choices; 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 your diggers chain-saws or boxes of matches it will in the end revert to type, adapt to the seasons and the whims of creeping nature. But not so much if you sit and arse around the house all day, like a short-sighted gink.

Then at last it dawned on me,

“Tammy’s back!

Go on say it!

Tammy’s back! 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 dance, 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 brise le coeur a Castorama puis j’ai pleure jusqu’a Leroy Merlin.”

Why the hell hadn’’t she done “je me suis fait une epilation 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 men’s 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 television, la radio, la presse ou putain de CNN.” On the condition however that the man in question had a big pile of books and an adequate supply of chilled pilsener, I would have to agree with him that people these days really don’t know shit about metaphysics.

I chose the coolness of the cellar in my home in this tiny burg that reminds me so much of Streslau, where I lived and worked for several years back in the eighties. The 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 shamelessly for money, or worse, badly disguised as a leper to scare the crap out of Germans, I do in fact stay at home, quietly in a room. Silently waiting for the intermittent furtive taps on my living room shutters. Three short raps and I am up on my feet, ready to serve, Staffordshire style through the four feet of thick stone windowsills that separate 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 my reverie, waiting for trade, I was startled and almost overcome when I was awoken, not by gentle 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 Collobrieres 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 the wood fire pizza man at the gas station.

He 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?”

Well he sure didn’t seem like a bundle of laughs to me, but how often does Rodney, Duke of Yendor get to entertain visiting aristocracy? “Sure”. And 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 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 hadn’t been able to stomach the unfamiliar offerings of Air France nor had he been able to make himself understood 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 say a little roughly,

“but first I’m going to lay down a few ground rules about dining out in this country. Firstly, 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 knife 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 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 were out on the town.

It was 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. 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 Rose 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 Collobrieres 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, 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.

“Howdy Rod.”

He did say it this time of that I’m sure, also that I 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 motels here and here, a proper gas station here with a Toyota dealership and a car wash. A fast-food outlet here here and here. 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 “Collobrieres Capital des Maures” to something they might understand in Eddy or Grant County, Roxy and elsewhere; something like:

“Collobrieres, we’re growing, come join us.”

We are growing, just not what they’d think.

I’ll Give Them Some Curry!

Every sixteen years or so, a Frenchman has a brilliant idea, Eric Cantona laying into a Crystal palace fan, then saying:

“when the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

Or Serge Gainsbourg setting ‘La Marseillaise’ to reggae and recording it with Rita Marley and the Wailers. Today it was Eric Burnett’s turn.

Late September, time for the idiot bastard sons to start planning civil disobedience: our annual general meeting 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 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 how a certain German fellow, arrived one day at Ludo’s to order 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 if you were the Pope of Rome, I can’t do it.”


“Oh! because!”

“But, really!”

“Well, look here, if you want me to tell you…..

” He looked with ill-concealed disgust at the car outside, ”I’ll have no Skoda drivers in my house if you please!”

We have been trying to undermine, disrupt and with a bit of luck totally nuke the annual Chestnut Festival for about five years now, 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 brassy monotonous gloom. A mistake which as ever, led to utter failure.

Not just one festival to deal with either, three straight Sundays in a row when tens of thousands of those horrible visitors literally pour into this tiny village looking for something real, something authentic. Well its certainly not in Collo’ that they’re going to find any of that. Not likely, its all a fake a fraud and a sham, what’s more if I catch any of them poking around my front door, or dancing in my street, I’ll give them some curry!”

Another time, 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, only 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.

We have made countless other mischievous attempts to sabotage and disorganize this annual transgression, dropping stink bombs, redesigning the traffic system by heaving the no-parking signs and barriers into the river, all to no, or very little avail.  One year, I remember it well, I paid Rabba O’Riley a good half ounce and a stunning collection of tractor driving music, to deep plough the huge field of a car park on the outskirts of town. The next day came the heaviest rainfall in recorded history, which totally flattened all his good work, then followed two or three days of typical glorious sunshine and fierce wind, which left le parking once more in perfect condition. Sometimes you just can’t win! The dubious brotherhood of chestnut growers still form their procession, the nucleus of which is 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 apalling 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 Collobrières.

One year I pragmatically adopted the – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – approach. This was the only ruse that we can only assume to have been successful, so therefore does not fulfil 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 with a label that would suggest 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 yet has opened the jar and tucked in immediately- (I do not not supply plastic spoons), I have never enjoyed the pleasure of witnessing their disquiet.

This year it is going to be different,  an ass coming down like a wolf on the fold: Eric’s brilliant idea.

“Why don’t we just put out a ridiculous fake story about the day when the good people of Collobrieres decided that enough was enough and staged a massive anti-chestnut festival protest which got out of hand and finished up with the entire population on a burning, breaking and robbing rampage on the eve of the festival’s sickening opening ceremony?”

“We can’t do that! Can We?

“We bloody well can, I’ll write something about a lamentable and pitiful spectacle; the two dangling legs, hanging there, stiff in their newness and of a staring blue, something like that in pretentious and unintelligible French.  Then Taz can do a bit of crafty picture editing, we’ll have the whole thing all over the net the night before, and with any luck, nobody will turn up on the Sunday morning!”

“Do you really think that would work Eric?” I asked

“I do, Abso-bloody-exactly!’

Totally confident, Eric knew about these things I’m sure, We settled right down for a few more self satisfied drinks.
Then Ludo, addressing me in accents of stern reproof:

“I’m not fond of traitors, and I won’t have them inside my house. I make more money in October than you three put together in a month of Sundays! Go and get your beers somewhere else.”

I Wish To Register A Complaint.

Over the years this weary village where motion is slow and time appears to stand still has had as many monikers as I’ve had jelly beans, from the ‘Chestnut Capital of the Observable Universe’ to ‘Sustainable Development Is Us’, even ‘Collobrières, Sod the Euro, We Like Francs’. Just to name a few. Recently though, their Department of Cunning Stunts truly surpassed itself by proposing that they will no longer respect the ridiculous notion of energy saving time, but would remain resolutely on Standard Collobrières Time all the year round. One full hour ahead of the rest of France for five months of the year. Come late October time will actually stand idle, as the other idiots reset their clocks and watches!

The decision was passed by a unanimous vote, as no councilman or woman could come up with any compelling argument for why anyone would want to do something so pointless and stupid. To do anything just because everybody else does cuts nothing at all in this town.

The Lady Mayoress, Christiane ‘Birdy’ Namnam 49, explained that this was “a win win win situation”, and that without further ado. I suspect she meant that once this little titbit was out in the wild, even more visitors would be heading to Provence’s oddest and most eccentric destination.

I wondered what the locals would make of this latest act of reckless irresponsibility, so I decided to find out. I donned my beret and went walkabout in the chilly maze of lacklustre streets that is Collobrières. I was looking for a representative handful of the said locals, easily distinguishable from throngs of tourists in shorts, by their heavy overcoats and unsteady teetering gait. I was not unduly surprised to discover a general air of indifference; unemployed Gerald Lupin, 63 a drinker with a writing problem told me it was just another trick by “The conasse” with a knowing wink. 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 care? Rabba O’Riley, hunter gatherer 37, shrugged some more.

“The sun.”

He said pointing accurately although the sky was overcast, “that’s how I tell the time.” Imbecile!

On a brighter note Florian “Luftwaffe” Biaggio 22, unemployed, was a hugely enthusiastic supporter of such a bold and practical decision.

“It’s the first time in years our administrators have actually done something for us. Why, now I can sleep in ’till midday and still have time to nip to Lidl and buy me some brew for breakfast before they close for lunch. Bloody blinkin’ marvellous if you ask me”.

A spokesperson representing the two grocery stores, three bars, seventeen restaurants, two bakers and a pharmacy stated unequivocally that none of them really gave a fu#k and 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”.

So until the last Sunday in March, Collobrières will be one hour ahead of everybody. Blinking bloody light years ahead if you ask me.

It serves you right to suffer, serves you right to be alone. That’s as maybe and entirely my own decision, but what about this bit of news to brighten up a lonely chill winter’s day?  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 J Geils day!”

(More accurately I would say, J Geils late afternoon and early evening.)

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 fuck themselves, but that is by the way. 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 (according to Steve), the the greatest rock and roll band of all time. So here’s a special word for the very wonderful and distinguished harmonica player from America, Mister Magic Dick.

For 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 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 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 Collobrieres? 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 my awesome logic and refreshing common sense. J Geils day it is!

Wednesday 12/12, from 3pm Collo 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.

Okay I understand This ain’t no never-never land I hope that when this issue’s gone I’ll see (her) when (her) clothes are on…..And the lesson we learn from this story is, next time you come to town don’t forget to say,

“No anchovies please.”

Whammer Jammer, let me hear you dig you!

To be brutally honest, J Geils day turned out to be very 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 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 Milliband scruff, I guessed he had jumped out of the chestnut stump straight into the fire, luckily he had brought 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, my 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 Facebook or Tweet things or I would have ended up looking like a real chump. Fuck-you very much indeed Mrs. Mayoress! What exactly are the purpose of tweets by the way?

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. The party 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? At last the Gendarmes showed up, demanding in a most unfriendly tone to turn it down. Thank heavens!

A little later though the darned public address system did burst into life. Hark! The Horrid assholes sing, Slade, John Lennon, Wham! and Jona Lewie of course! After a while I was beginning to wish I was at home for Christmas always in the kitchen at parties. This is 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 them 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 my mind.

I got there spot on three thirty, their eccentric afternoon opening time, only to find that their clock claimed it was only half past two! Not to worry, brass in pocket and an hour to kill, this will be time well wasted, heading off to the nearest bar.

The Bar de la Mairie, wherein I found as usual the unlikely named but far larger than life and redoutable duo, Ludo and Magnetto, both behind the counter miming dreadfully, gnamgnam style to an even larger than life pretty lady wearing only boots and an umbrella on a shapely outsize television screen, and all the while plying their one unsuspected customer with a variety of odd concoctions and strange brews.

Hans Goertz, the notorious Pizza geezer, a man 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 rabbit droppings and aaargh! Whiskey and coke.

Instead of asking for a pint of what the kraut was drinking, I ordered a snakebite. Deadpan. Once 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 “snackbeets were on ze ‘ouse.”

From the Bar de la Mairie, to the Mairie itself is but a stone’s throw, but after a happy hour with Ludo, Magnetto and Hans, I felt like I was going transmetropolitan, reformed and with hardened resolve. And when I’ve done those bastards in I’ll storm the BBC, look out baby, here I come!

I positively swaggered into the municipal building, straight up the stairs to the imposing double doors of the boss’s office. Without hesitation I banged on the door 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, give us free WiFi or employ a community policeman to give out parking tickets, deal with dog shit and properly investigate those  dreadful murders?”

“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 politely, since when had plump and white hirsute bastards 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 on your door and all you can say is, Melvin’s not here? Shame on you! Well I won’t go away, and while I am here 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…”


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, sauceboat!”

“Oops… Err… Rodney’s not here! Last time I saw him he was speaking German and getting sloshed over the road with Ludo, Magnetto and their pet duck Jurgen. Bitte eine Bit.”

More Like A Turnip

Taz had had finally decided to “go professional”, the demand for Nucky balls was unlimited and she would be the only supplier. How good a business plan is that? She had also taken a bit of legal advice. Yes growing cannabis is highly illegal young lady, but selling donkey shit? Excuse me officer? Come again! 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,  but do not expect a garden, she had decided to invest in more productive livestock.

Two more donkeys, one a tiny little runt with a squint and crooked green teeth, given to them by its previous long suffering and badly bitten proprietor. When a human of any shape or size approached she would roar and grumble for a full five minutes and finish it off mournfully with a gargling that sounded a hell of a lot like Van Morrison singing Rave On John Donne, whilst being strangled. On paper, her name was Modestine, but she is, was and always will be The Skank. The other, Sheena, a punk rocker with a startlingly preened Mohican mane stood twice Skanky’s height and weight could push over huge trees with her monstrous expansive backside and eat her way through dense thickets of spiky-assed vegetation. Collectively the four donkeys; Pingu, the special one and her famous little boy Nucky. Sheena and the skank, were to be known as the William S. Burros. One day a very short and rather overweight Shetland pony called Dave appeared out of the blue and wheedled his way into the pack, for less than obvious reasons she had renamed them “The Flying Burrito Brothers”.

To the 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 bastards”. To be able to pose round Saint-Tropez on a stunningly beautiful Andalusian Bay could be a bit of fun too.

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. 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 his was 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 of 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 a cunning plantation of Arundo donax, giant cane, is another type of 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 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.

Back home 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 worlds most loved francophone Country and Western singer.

Then Taz, 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.

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 scrummy 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!”

“Cut it out Rodney, Steve and I are genuinely concerned about you, we’ve all read your crazy blogs you know. You live in a fantasy world mate, and me and Steve are going to drag you out of it, 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, 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!? “

Christmas In Italy, Huh

So it’s a road trip is it? Zen and the art of motorcycle theft, pointless tooing and froing about the country Jack “interesting” bloody Kerouac style? There’s no special rider here!

So I’ve lost my way in the narrative, wandered down the rocky road of rhetoric and stepped on something nasty have I ? We’ll see about that. How crass do those costly Xmas lights look now on a bleak back to work winter morning? Turns out I’m not that bonkers after all, watch the birdy!

Christiane Namnam, the deservedly famous Lady Mayoress of Collobrieres, possibly the greatest of all the great stupid wazzocks with the debilitating privilege of running a small burg, today made a dramatic turnaround in her polity of twinning, sister citying or jumelage as she humourlessly calls it. On her return from an official visit to her commune gemellato, the topping mountain resort town of Frabosa Sottano in Northern Italy, she proclaimed herself flabbergasted by the fact that they did actually have a thriving chestnut industry. She had fervently believed until this moment, that the idea was to just pretend you had one, really believe you did, and then put the word around that you were the chestnut capital of the world.

“That’s how it works right?”

Miffed all the more she was to find out that Frabosa Sottano also possessed the perfect geographic and climatic conditions for the production of her favourite fruit: fertile and sunny south facing slopes, long and jolly cold winters, then altitude, my friends,  bag loads of it. Finally, they also had a diligent and energetic population to tend and harvest their futile crop. The four prerequisites for producing quality nuts which her own town was sadly lacking. How embarrassing is that?

“Christmas in Italy, Huh. One Mary one Jesus and fifty million wise guys.”

She muttered unpleasantly as she heaved in her tri-colored cummerbund and summoned the po faced, red necked yet determined Sid and Doris Bonkers (both 59), her word carriers, and briefed them for the tricky announcement of the wonderful news. That’s a nice drum break, but wait for it, the little town of Cambridge Idaho will soon be their new, inseparable, incomprehensible, American twin.

Cambridge bleedin’ Idaho?

Cambridge bleedin’ Idaho. Yes siree! A unilateral agreement was imminent. Her state side counterpart Lady Mayor ‘Tweety’ Nan-Nan had announced in difficult French.

“I’m Thrillers’ bitzy at the prospectiolo….A chestnut chum!”

As for Namnam, she had long harboured a desire to visit the magnificent state of Idaho, but now she could do it, all expenses paid, as a V.I.P. Which of course means, and here I must ask for, but do not crave indulgence, a Very Important Potato.

But seriously, why Cambridge Idaho? Once again, on with the ragged red beret and the dodgy French accent, I was going to find out. I found her of course sitting outside the Bar de la Mairie, drinking black coffee, eating quintessential croissants and Bogarting one of Rabba O’Riley’s infamous joints.

“Good morning Birdy”

I greeted her warmly as I sat down in one of the many empty pews around her.

“You don’t mind if I call you Birdy do you?” Birdy, Birdy, Birdy……….. Birdy was not there.

“Madame Namnam, may I enquire about the reasons you chose Cambridge Idaho as our new twin? Was it because they both start with the very same ‘C’ majuscule? “

“No” was all she said.

“So the fact that ‘Cambridge” has fewer letters than ‘Collobrieres’ and is therefore inferior, had no influence on your decision then?”

“No! No!” She admitted grudgingly,” but Frabosa Sottano, was a bit of a smack in the face, double-bloody-barrelled too, the presumptuous dagos.”

“Well then, what about them sharing the identical zip code, 83610, that’s pretty incredible eh? What what what?”

Not a bit of it.

Right then, how was I going to put this? Did she actually know about the Famous Potato thing?

“Goodbye twinning, goodbye jumelage. Hello Spuddy Buddy! Am I right?”

“NO, Fuck off Rodney!”

Then it struck me, how could I have been so insensitive? Not only had she remembered my name, bless her, but I had completely forgotten that she was a huge, no massive and unconditional fan of Paul Revere and the Raiders! Cambridge’s very own small time idiot bastard sons of anarchy. Of course! Now we can have a special day in their honour and a tribute concert on July 14th, no more Johnny Halliday, Claude Nougaroooo. or Francois for that matter, she’ll do it her way, shoobi doobi wah!

Best of all though, take a look at our new look Mayor…………Only Idaho can do this!


Is It About A Bicycle?

As a man who was brought up to believe that the best and only things in life were fast girls, expensive cars, and Samuel Smith’s, it’s just too odd to think that here I am now living alone, drinking continental bottom fermented lager and driving around in a Renault 4. Bottom of the 1978 range at that,  not even a GTL. I put the car bit down to the fruit of maturity and good taste. As as for living alone, you can think what you like. A Renault 4 will always get you home by the way and no, it’s not for sale.

I’ve had a lot of calls this week, Maurin sounding improbably concerned about me, Taz, imploring me “lay offa ze Nucky Balls”, which to her of course was like having my fingers permanently in her cash register. Sometimes Steve, but all of them expressing doubts about my mental elf. (Bang your head). Was I really all-right, was I getting ready for the road trip, the adventure of a lifetime? I certainly was. I had already read Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, familiarised myself with all those losers from the beat generation, I think. Even tinkered with the incredible journey, just in case we run into a dog or a cat or something like that. As I write, I am watching Easy rider. Ooh, it makes me wonder!

This whole thing though, the road trip, 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 the chirpy 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 long oared 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.

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 Collobrieres, through the valley of sombre green hillsides, steaming steadily in the warm morning sun after the hard rain of the night before; heading towards motorways, traffic jams and billboards. All aboard! 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, the darling, was wearing that dinky little yellow outfit I had bought for him in St Tropez, finished off rather pleasingly I thought with an oversized, bulbous and somewhat bloated matching corduroy cap which could just about pass as a crash-Helmut if the police didn’t poke too closely. Maurin was online shopping from top to toe, cheap but ineffably cool and leathery as he swept passed me repeatedly, head down and tongue outstretched on the bends, one more treacherous than the next. Fool of a boy, I’m sure!

It still amazes me, even after all these years. Why are Renault 4′s are 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!

It’s funny how quickly one can adapt to life’s wonderful aberrations and absurdities, like driving on the right, smart phones or breakfast cereals. 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 Pi for ever.

We strove, as we always do to find a workaround. Speeding through Pierrefeu, down the Sauvebonne, straight through Solliès Toucas, up the Gapeau valley until we finally hit the RN98, all that might sound like utter nonsense to you, so let’s just say we were trying to get to Marseille, legally. honestly and decently. Maurin wants us to meet his parents! Esther and Chester. How nice.

Then a quick bite of lunch in Belgentier.

A Relais Routier, just the ticket. A monster platter of raw vegetables, crudites, to start, followed by a blanquette de veau, Camembert , tarte aux pommes, coffee and one last miserable carafe of the cuvee du chef, please mate, go on, just one more! Nothing doing. 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 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 leg, engrossed and befuddled by a 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?”

Instead of the ritual sixpence ninepence or a bob palava, I was 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.

Unsurprisingly, five minutes later, after some entertaining cabalistic 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 unlikely 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 two-wheeled mount, 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 Caribou County Idaho, 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 you nerd, Timmy 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 they know I was coming? Taunt me with ping-pong why don’t you? Hurt me!

I shall be staying in the car with these charming hitch-hikers, damn you!

The boys had somehow found another of those one-stop sporting apparel 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, whoah!

“Tickets for the match tonight Sir? Clean your windscreen mate? Couscous to go monsieur? Qui c’est ce con la? 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 included 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 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 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. About forty she must have been. 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 in C minor from a lady in white satin, skulking, glass in hand a little further back in the hallway. She was British and of course drunk, very drunk.

“That odious creature is called Millicent 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’Milliband. He’s a cyclist, you know mummy, Tour de France, professional jobby”.

So there I was flat on my ass 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 donkey whisperer, or something 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.”

Mum looked at me harshly. “Skir vishe lee? An anapaest without embroidery,”

but her pitying look said so much.

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, lady?”

Eric’s father was quite another kettle of fish, scaly cold and looking about ten past dead. “Papa” said young Eric with covert enthusiasm.

“May I introduce to you my lover Stevie-Ray Milliband, two dystics!…..Ah ha! I thought you’d be surprised!”

In the few months that I had known him, Eric had always had a 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?”

“Yes yes, 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………”

“Well sir,” despicable opportunist passer by that I sometimes am.

“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. Are you familiar with the works of the good Captain Beefheart sir? Well, no matter, let’s try Blue Cheer or why not free beer? Something to mollify the unemployed, if you pursue the target of my observations?”

“I do I do good Sir Rodney and I will I will! Why not Howlin’ Wolf day too, twice a year?”

“And now gentlemen — I trust there are no transvestites present – let’s discuss all this over dinner.”

Chester wrapped one arm warmly on my shoulders. 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.

“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”.

Well, Brad, what was for supper?

It was 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 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 slaked our thirsts with horrible gulpings.

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.

Although I definitely I prefer him in ‘did you know?’ 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 or a mother. I abruptly halted her heaving ire by protesting that the Opera was he was alluding to was just a harmless web browser and I could not make head nor tail of it either.

“What would you do with a dot torrent file in Opera madam?”

That shut her up. The 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 weather, 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 too 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.

“Yes, everybody knows that Doctor dork, but why and how do they actually happen?”

“Well I don’t know that, nobody does. Jeder macht eine kleine Dummheit.”

Chester, politician and diplomat had in a blink, outsmarted him.

Eric was justifiably embarrassed. Steve took umbridge at last, a huge piece of cheese, then flight. Broke like the wind.

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.

“Bonjour!” He lied.

“Chester”, I said as calmly I could muster, “you don’t mind if I call you Chester do you?”

Crazy Chester was still there, he had refrained from chasing after Steve in the fog and no, he didn’t mind at all.

“How can I help Rodney old chap?”

“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 pointless lie, just a common or garden Frenchman then now I come to think about it, and said

“Now that is an original idea Rodney, and of course I will 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 instead, and 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. 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 The Maureva, the village cocktail bar and lingerie fashion showroom, trendy like you could never imagine, 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 Chris Waddle!

“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, I took the picture, but didn’t realize until later, after looking at it more carefully that someone had picked up what looked to me like Bob Wilson and Jacqui Oatley. It can’t possibly have been me and Eric in the Smart for two, 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 used my scissors!”

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?”

Chester was rebuffed.

“Fuck off! I don’t want no doctor sticking needles in me.”

“Well, A raw onion last thing at night would certainly be of great benefit 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 teeth than I remembered, he asked them sweetly:

“Is it about a bicycle?”



A Boily Man Is Delectable Pustulence

I’ve been thinking for some time now that Steve finally, inevitably, was either heading for a breakdown or suicidal. Perhaps in utmost secrecy he had a renewed interest in Bow street triple distilled barley water, he had certainly lost interest in all those improbable things he 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! Now here’s the thing amigo: roadside copulation, 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.

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 banal though it may be, one of his lifetime’s ambitions was to say to a a cop: “Fuck off you fat piece of shit”. Not to smile meekly and ask if it was about a ruddy bicycle! I shoulda’ went on, when my friend come from Mexico at me. 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.”

“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 dog?”

“Sure, Steve. Welsh terriers work the best though.”

“It’s Saint Sylvester’s day, ’tis raining cots and dags and there’s naught but the odd tree to burn my dear.”

Steve barely seemed to understand what I was saying to him, poor soul.

“Just get back on your bike then and enjoy life a bit, you’re not really dying and you don’t have to work on Lance’s farm no more.”

“Let’s just smoke some crack, have a hot little bitch of a curry then go kill someone. I’m bored!  Yass! Yass!…..Just look at me, all boiled up, ready willing and able. In this condition the world my humdrum friends is a personal ashtray. I’ shall go back to kill that old bugger right now, stuff that onion up his right ass in broad daylight. Lay low for a couple of weeks 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, yes Steve, of course you are, c’est cela, oui! Pinking up through well hung Aix, 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 or even a greasy spoon cafe. Just about everything was, for reasons unthinkable, kept really nice and greasy. Bar, Tabac, 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 dog in a cage in the back. We had arrived. Deep Shit Arkansas .

Le 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. The bar room fell silent as we entered. 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 corn paper cigarettes; five tables and a bartender, a cretinous pale-faced Caid with his head wrapped in newspaper.

In the immortal words of Paddy Flaherty, “The drinks are on me” I blurted spontaneously, in the name of self preservation, not charity…. “Tourné general!” Eric obligingly translated. We were shown with rapturous applause to the vacant table and listened to the loutish obesity present, as the cretin prepared our coffee and shots. Conversation, a 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 a taste for is more of the same.

Steve demanded potato chips. “Certainly Sir, Horse and Onion, Snail and Vinegar, or plain Goat?”

“A jay 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. Call that 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 of the fat guys, 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?”

Then to my amazement he produced quite a different instrument from his own pocket, made from what looked like a fragment of crayfish or lobster claw, 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?”

“Are you taking the piss?” What the fat man actually boomed in fury was: “Too to 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?” He continued, “but believe me if you’d been a real blackbird, you’d have buggered off sharpish.”

Eric’s audience was beginning to get very seriously narked. “Taking ze pisse are we?”

Parfetemeing” Yes I am.

“So here we are waiting for blackbirds are we?” There was no stopping him now.

“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.”

Our 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!”

A remarkable performance Eric, I can’t deny, Eric is dead, long live Maurin. But we’re not out of the woods yet, let alone the Auberge…A Scotsman once said to me: : “Are you a fucking Leeds supporter Jimmy?” Brandishing a huge knife, then the fat guy, humiliated, Staring at me harder than ever demanded:

“Vous etes supporteur de PSG (Paris Saint Germain) Hein? PSG, Pedes Sur Gazon!” (Pooftahs On Grass)

“Non” said I nonchalantly 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….”

“You ‘Ang glezz? Dem Ba Ba Didierd Rogba Chelseee!…. pederast!. Putain de merde!”

This I took to be an understandable expression of his chagrin that all Marseilles’ best players end up at Chelsea and daggers were drawn once again.

“He no ordinaire Inghlese, he Tony Cascarino.”

Eric to the rescue.

I am now the greatest fake Irish footballer who has ever played, for Marseille or anyone else. This was match winner if ever there was one. “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!”

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?

Did you know? Me talking, Sha Na Na only played 30 minutes and if they hadn’t made it into the film nobody would ever have known and you wouldn’t be so screwed about it Steve. 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, in this country all Routes Nationales, if you keep away from motorways, Ha! Ha! Lead to La Ferte Bernard. What you probably don’t know is that a Peugeot 103 moped will fit nicely in the back of Citroen C15, provided you let the dogs 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.


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 Parkers online, 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 Rodney,” 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 his other oeuvres  Comme d’Habitude was  the prototype for the 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, but 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 day.

We sat ourselves down at one of those hideously designed and scrupulously uncomfortable bench-tables; Eric produced Four Roses and three tumblers and we drank in silence for a while.

“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.”

As for the resolutions, I suggested that this year we should abstain from drinking beer. Touch not a drop. They both looked at me as if I had proposed a suicide pact or something.

“What’s your problem with beer Rod? You of all people”  They said as one.

“My problem with beer is that just after I wrote that stupid blog last year about Plato liking beer so much, and all that crap about Linux, BSD and Lidl, 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 and consider 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 boldly suggested that in view of the unseasonally clement weather we should camp out for the night, we still had all that gear they bought in that dreadful store in Aubagne in the back of the Four.


Eric, the self-appointed legal beagle was vehement.

“There is 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.”

“Objoction overullied.” Steve and I in unison for once.

Sometimes a  simple question can come as a shock, shake you up a bit and rattle you, even if it isn’t 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, while we were 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 whose 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 Electric Prunes, we entered what the French simply call La Zone.

Dark 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. 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 windows). “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 for words.

To my great relief I spotted a sign – Camping Auberge La Bagatelle- 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 whiff of pestilence or chortling wind.

We upped our tents in less than a jiffy, they sort of jumped out of their 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.

What is the French National dish? Gritty snails in  delicious garlic butter perhaps or why not the poor little leggies of froggies ? The squeamish may demand chicken in the pot or beef à la bourguignonne?  No, no!  It’s  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 well 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.

Most 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, Le 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 illegal tobacco smoke, propping up the bar, spitting and swearing alternately. Swearing rather nastily I thought, just reciting the old favourites; bordel, merde, putain, connasse, but it’s the way you say it that counts. I watched him carefully for a moment, a lonely desperate, tragic figure of a man, and my heart went out to him; how hard life must be with only one imaginary friend! Then I noticed, he was on the ‘phone, asshole.

Whisky was the obvious choice and the easiest to pronounce.

“Twar wisskee seal vou play garsson”

Twying 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.”

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? Where the hell were you?”

 ”Well said Sir!” But no I have no answer to either of those questions.”

“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 drunk 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 they had told us to fuck off.”

We stayed for a few more rounds 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. We finally took our leave and left for La Bagatelle.

We were awoked most horribly the following morning, not by an angry Lou Mistral, but by two more coppers, Gendarmes in heavy shades, the tops of their ears slightly feathered, they slapped our Tipperary  homes roughly shouting:

“sortay! sortay vous and be sharp about it!”

Like stranger’s thumbs they just stood there, rigid and resolved as I emerged tentatively from my cosy hole, relieved that Steve was still snoring and not about to finally fulfil a lifetime’s ambition. Gag him with a spoon? I surely would.

“Is it about a C15?” My pre-emptive strike.

“It is not” said the one, “It is about two” said the other. “Plural. Two pristine examples of la différence Francaise, purloined and usurped, if you will permit me the expression, under our very noses. outside a brothel 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 lord! You’re here at last. Have you caught the bastards yet?”

“To which particular breed of bastard  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 sac, we have in our possession faxed facsimiles of you three personages, top notch thievery, I’ll be bound. It’s fines 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 dogs out?”

I said  so pompously, that I was not even aware of my gaffe concerning the dogs.

“Yes Sirs, Indeed you do, in fact I’d say you are the very paradigme (sic) of such abominations.”

I have always thought 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, don’t have the ability to say all that in French and anyway they had both turned 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 appalled at the same time, 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 a  is a Motobecane, un cyclomoteur est un blinking Peugeot! Vos papiers s’il vous plaît 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, nephew to the Pope…..”

When 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, not to mention the late great Ukrainians  Yogosan and Sodergarden, god rest their souls. We were home in a boat.

“This is my very good friend Steve Milliband,”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 Messieurs!”

Steve and I of course had no papers, but thoughtful Eric began rummaging about in his saddlebags  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, then looking up, straight at them said:

“What is he name of the current Minister of the Interior?”

“We are not going for gold here boyo, 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 just froze on the spot, took root, petrified….

“Monsieur Burnett, Le Loup Hurlant, Oh! La plume de ma tante!”

Not wishing to lose face as soldiers seldom do, they said we could leave at our whimsical pleasure, that the World Cup and the Olympic Games  were every bit as ridiculous as  ”Le Tour.” Nonsensical nonsense to be sure.

“But  please, gentlemen, be quite certain to leave the little white vans just as they are when we did.”

Now that’s what I call a fair cop.

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! Show them your passport Eric!”

And then the wind began to break, gently, ever so gently at first,  gusting, circling, north north-west. The mighty evergreen cypress giants planted all around for protection began to sway ominously. A fir-tree roaring 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! When it came whoosk, was hardly the word. 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. Crumbs! What kites they were!

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 dilapidated bridge. It was quite as if it had never existed, or more likely it 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 cremes 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 Cameron ‘Stick’ Mcghee, the persuasively dyslectical Notaire who had sold me that ‘highly despicable toun howse with burundles of lewd potentiality’ in Collobrieres had upped sticks as it were, and planted himself in Lacoste, of all places. Old Stickybeak, he certainly owes me one!

Steve was certain that Rigoberto Baresa lived in a 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: Oppede Le Vieux?

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 supermarche places that Eric has warned me quite firmly not to mention again by name. We 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, Kentucky and Clan McBolloch’, I had noticed them all on my previous forays into this retail paradise; tons of it at a fraction under ten Euros the bottle. 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! To avoid the habitual tut-tutting and any Gallic malicious implications from ugly bifocals at the checkout, we chucked in some bratwurst, a bicycle repair kit and thermal underwear, to make it look like we having a birthday party at Le Gour de Glastre rather than just getting pissed in the car park.

Prophetic! cupidity is its own reward. A van load of dusty road menders and their indispensable and versatile colleagues, the hole diggers in a multitude nationalities, had set up an improvised luncheon parlour right next to my Renault, under an adventurous early blossoming almond. Eyes glowering on the alluring contents of our trolley, they beckoned us over:

“Mangie con ni? trinki con vi?” You eat with us, we’ll drink with you? Just guessing.

The 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.

I have always found that the best use for generic Cola is for de-coking moped exhausts or thoroughly cleaning out petrol tanks, but today it went down pretty neatly with big dose of Joey Barton. Croutons a l’ail Captain? Aye! Aye! Sir. 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 anyway. All the better when Birkov, the foreman pulled out a devilish little violin and another produced a banjo, the one bowing his heartstrings tender. Tuneless to my ears yet drawing us in unwillingly, the other plonking taut and metallic but with a po and steady rhythm. Not wishing to mention by the by, Irish Greg on the stringless bass. Then to my delighted stupefaction, Alberto began to croon:

“Mwen renmen ou Lidl Oh wi pou mwen fè.”

Alberto y los trios piranhas . Encore! Encore!

When the back to work whistle finally blew, somewhere between two and three-thirty we left at my insistence in pursuit of Stick Mcghee 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 Siberian clad residents, all 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.”

“I do?”

“Yes, old Stickybeak McGhee, 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 the horloge parlant, and after a few pointless gestures, head shaking and shoulder shrugs came clean:

“all right! I don’t know a single solitary sausage out here, or anywhere else. 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.”

“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’hots, but where to grab a spot of dinner? I don’t think there was any ill intent in Hobson’s choice to recommend The Loofoc 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. Loofoc 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 and most of the items on the menu were off. When some fodder was finally was delivered to our table, I do not wish to describe it, I will just mention that severely overcooked then 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 a snazzy 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 blogs, and they’re shit.”

“Thanks for the tip Eric, I’ll bear that in mind”

“No but seriously, eating drinking and stealing things? Do you think people want to read about that?”

“Well they would if they cared about life’s deeper meaning” I replied tartly.

”No Rodney, fresh breezes and vast expanses are what they are looking 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 Lidl 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 Lidl, when there is anybody watching. Rule five,” In a joyous boorish chorus. “No pooftahs!”

“It’s January and cold as a witch’s teat” 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?

“Look.” Steve implored,

“We don’t know where we are going or why, and this country is just fucking boring, eat, drink and steal things, Rodney is spot on. It’s not a blog 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? Let’s head way down back Mexico way!”

“He is not entirely without reason Eric” I said calmly.

“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 and chateaux. Then you’’re supposed to have a camera, take pictures of everything, so you don’t need to use your brain or memory any more and you look at the snaps later and say look I’’m in Provence and that’’s my wife with a melon on her head making a purchase.”

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 arguers vocabulary.

“We really are completely deboussole.”

Eric said glum once more, neatly summing up poor Steve’s implorings. Who said the French don’t have a word for everything? Deboussole? 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, a 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 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, that’s 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 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.

He called and got a surprisingly unlikely quick response:

“Hi Matt, it’s 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 I’m saying?” “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!

We checked in at La Ferme Joyeuse 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.

Alone in my 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 stripy 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, problem solved. The following morning, freshly hungover but with something positive to look forward to at least, our day began with cleanliness, coffee and confiture maison. One more of life’s little mysteries neatly resolved, soundly thrashed and locked in the coal shed: what do people around here do all day? What is it that really makes the world go round? Cleaning things and making jam, that’s what.

Could You Pass The Grey Poupon?

we were shoved off enthusiastically by our smiling hosts, Thierry and Julie, who I am thinking had not done a thorough inventory of their mini-bars. So bedraggled and exhausted we must have looked the night before, they most probably thought we would have no pressing desire for night-caps.

We had agreed to avoid any major towns, so there would be no major disappointments like ghastly Avignon. Motoring steadily through pleasant grey countryside, slipping discretely through nondescript villages we made steady progress, but seldom did we pass unnoticed, Renault Fours and cyclomoteurs are a rare but clearly welcomed sight on the byways of La France profonde. We left a dumbstruck and bemused populace in our wake, 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 up my bum again for the first time in ages and a steady stream of assorted white vans in the opposite direction. 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, 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 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 had a tendency to go home for lunch, honestly, 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 fifth, unsustainable speed of fifty. 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. Which I’’m happy to say was precisely what happened today; 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.

My little 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 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.

We rolled up Matt’’s lengthy and finely gravelled driveway shortly before five, in just enough light to make out the three storey, square stone built farmhouse. Very nice and very spacious too by the look of things, I could see us hanging around here for a day or two. The place was surrounded by an army of vines, twisted, gnarled yet uniform, lined up elegant 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.

Matt himself was a little older than I had imagined; grey-haired mister business man, retired, well fed and well pleased with himself was my first impression. He and Eric shook hands rather formally but with obvious warmth and exchanged a few words which I pretended 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 I’m afraid you will find my travelling companions to be just ghosts and empty sockets.”

“Rodney” I said simply. Steve was always a hard act to follow.

“Matthew Gloag, enchante. You look like three chaps badly in need of a drink. Am I right?”

His name 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 plait.”

We were sitting comfortably behind very huge glasses of extremely passable ruby red with a touch I believe of Cabernet Sauvignon, beautifully served 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 a French woman.

“Why didn’’t you tell us Matt was a winemaker?” I asked Eric because, well? I wanted to know.

“Everybody is a winemaker in Chateauneuf-du Pape Rodney, but he’s not just a vigneron, 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 I’m no winemaker, or vigneron, all the hard graft is done by Ginette and her husband 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 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 the right combination to go with any particular dish.”

Steve seemed to have noticed that his bottles bore the funniest of little labels and asked the wino man, picking up a bottle in front of me, “ Pretty minimalist your labelling Matt, this one just says ‘General purpose red,pre-dinner guests (peanut butter, 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, Lidl 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 water 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 it races on to sixteen, seventeen or more, if a six turned out to be a nine I don’t mind, and I don’t add any sugar,beetroot or wood shavings or for that matter 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.”

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 the vast expanses of bread and fromage. not the cheesy attitude. “No I love the place, 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 chunky chicken. Just once I tried a French turkey on Thanksgiving; really tried, basted the beast to death, but to no avail, 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 Euro fuck anyway? … By the way all my cheese comes direct from Wisconsin.”

“What about your rose and sausage rolls 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 peppers. “You went on all fours about nuptials, wedding marches and cupid’s chokehold.”

I just wanted some decent rose on a sunny spring morning and I don’’t recall actually eating anything at all on that day.”
Matt began arranging and sorting bottles……..bottles labelled Rollo MacBacon and Swiss, Southern Style king Biscuit Boy, Chocolate Chip Chowder and Slow Baked MacEnteritis. He’ had obviously done this many times before; 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…..

“Oi! got any rose Matt?”

 Eric, yobbo of the south. Lister at The Ritz, asking for Tetley’s bitter, With a lemonade top.

“I’ve got a spicy MacPebble-dash here and nothing to go with it!”
“ Well spotted Eric, a proper rose 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 rose wines. Verboten, my young friend.”
“That doesn’ ’t usually stop you Matt!”

“Well I do happen to have a few bottles of Couillon, but it is strictly speaking illegal, it’s an old and now forbidden 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-rose is neither a white or a red grape, it’s pink and eats chicken kormas for breakfast.”

All those years of beery hell, snorting whiskey and those horrible mind-bending alterations with Nucky balls with nothing but a hasty snack or a Cavendish to keep a body sound. More often than not,the fancy restaurants, and there have been a few, drink as much as you like so long as it’s red. Tut tut to your dry whites or gay rosay. Rod’s wasted years.

Finally I had seen the light, felt the gentle explosion in my very mouth, together in a totally unexpected and gracious harmony: MacBastard burgers with a seventeen variety unofficial Chateuneuf du Pape. Heaven in an engraved bottle, and all this courtesy of my new best friend Matthew Gloag.

I was in heaven, or as close as I would ever get. Heaven, a place where nothing ever happens? We’‘ll see about that.
“So what ya gonna do with your Harvard certificate then Eric”
“What!!! I Told you never to tell him Steve!”
“I never done say no word. Honest”
“It’’s been pretty obvious Eric, and Matt I take it was your favourite professor? Actually your dad told me all about you. He‘s really proud of you, you do know that don‘t you?”
Eric blushed distinctly, suppressed a tear and winked at Steve, arrogant to the very end.
“So what are you proposing to do with your luscious law degree, and how old are you any way twenty-eight? Thirty?
”Don‘t worry about me old man, I have a degree in International law and I‘m going to sue the bastards, have no fear.”
”The bastards? Which particular strain of bastard may you be thinking about? Many more than several would be understating the thing.”
”The French government of course, I’ll be good for millions.”
“And what exactly will you be suing them for?
“ Crimes against humanity, that’s what!”
“How’s that?” I said surprised, leg before wicket, 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 used in children’s stories like:
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.

Just like Tom Thumb’s blues! Would you believe that my dear mother used to read those 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 passe anterieur ,talk about having the piss ripped out of me by the other kids…I’m going to fucking well sue them.”
“Is that really true?” Matt asked genuinely concerned.
“Yes it is.“
“Well, son, count me in, let’s do this.“
”I Couldn‘t agree with you more Eric, but where do you draw the line between humanity and French people?” I pointed out nicely. “They‘ll rip you apart with that one in court.“
”I have thought long and hard about that Rod, but I was thinking less French people, more the poor bastard 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, t’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 bastard language! What sort of start in life is that for a shiny faced coon? Who wants to be a Millionaire?”

“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 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 decouverte” Would you believe?
“Is that it?”
“Sod off Matt and listen,this is a good one.We were all shepherded and shouted onto buses and then went off somewhere on a motorway. A place I am not likely to forget, Gounfaroun, which to me 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 butchers’ caravan came the big moment. For our delectation, they were going to make a donkey fly. Seriously. Some rough looking types dragged an old ass 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 with their breath,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 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 ! But everybody began to cry fie upon me!. They were very angry, and declared I was going to ruin the result of all their labour. So I found myself obliged to do my share in blowing in the tube. But fastidious a boy as you so well know, I saved the day. I pulled out the reed, rapidly reversed it, and stuck it in again by the other end, and so I thought I had played my part in a way that seemed to me 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! They turned on me, everybody,the villagers, my classmates and even the avuncular Benedetto. Talk about humiliation Matt, ostracised 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 bastards!”

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, 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 defendants 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,could you pass the Grey Poupon?
Merci beaucoup!…..”


Rodney, you’ll have to go!

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 rigid as embodied duty. Grand! 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’ll have 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.”

“Wouldn’t you like a cup of hot chocolate before you go?” He murmured timidly, making 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 boxes bound with brass,and an inscription: “Rodney of Dorney. Firearms, Fink Brau and Tobacco.” Life’s essentials

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 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; bargies, 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 Spandrels, 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,  Chunger’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 red fez, or chechia, on my head, with a long blue 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.

The Streslau-to-Clovis express was not yet in, so during a quarter of an hour, I promenaded up and down the platform 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. A dull rumble was heard, and a piercing whistle shook the vault.

“The New Mexico Express, gen’lemen! First stop, Mobile Alabama.”

“Good-bye, Rodney! Good luck, old fellow!”

And that my friends is how I ended up as professor of Ruritanian studies at the Clovis Community College. Any questions before I bid you all goodnight? I’m really quite overcome with emotion.”

“Any questions? I don’t 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 remember, Blank lines or lines starting with # shall be ignored.”

“Several years ago on a very hot summer’s day I was strolling 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 stomping up and down, tearing her hair, simpering and blaspheming, in that beastly way she has. Then I saw my man, his hat on the rack and I wondered if his clothes would look nice on me. He had a knitted puce suit, a crimson felt fedora, an oval half a pince-nez and a rosy cheek, just one. He was drinking beer and eating pancakes What an idea!

The pink halved gentleman approached me without caution, just a wretched proposition. Zipping his ample primrose mittens right up to the shoulders…

#Don’t interrupt Rodney!

He approached me smiling like a goblin.“Young man”. He flattered me soundly. “American young man with shaven legs and musculature. Beneath my cheeky pink 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, the stick you must note, is of little importance I use it for effect and regular but quite justified beatings, likewise the monocle.

The Kaiser I am and imperial clever clogs of a secret and deeply untrustworthy charitable foundation, and thusbeing, 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. “What is a poor boy to do?”

#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 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 excessive force 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 it’s vile and disgusting incarnations.”

#“That is fine” I said, in wonderment at his allusions, “but where exactly do I fit in with these startling plans?”

“We have opportunities for fellows of your particular calibre; 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 France, whence you shall begin your bespoke business with practical immediacy.”

#Well 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 actual 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 to boot. If you’re happy with that, and you verify that everything that had conflicts has been staged, you can write ‘Lidl commit’ just here, to finalize the merge commit.

And to finish Herr.” Glancing at the paper I had just signed,

“Ah! Excellent!..”

He looked at me like he had just beaten hell out of me at fussball or something…..”Milbona, one of my personal favourites, and um! What’s this a nickname too? El Tequito! Bravo Sir, you are quite the natural! 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 Collobrieres.”

# He hesitated.

“A wise man knows his onions are strong and pickly, and 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,there you will find the infamous Andre and Ursula, The high flying Kites, the Aggoun brothers of the CIA (Cash In Advance) and even a dangerous man called Graham who drives a big bastard Volvo, with brakes!

It is a little remote, 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…

Take care Stephen, 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. Be careful my friend and loyal employee, for the policing is, how do the British put it? The policing is not robust. Not robust at all.”


Go Configure

I slept well and I slept sound, drifting off, regretting and cursing the one striking difference I should have noticed long ago between the French and people; some sense of humour, but digging deep, all I find are douche bags.

Burnett had seen a donkey’’s bum too close, but when he slept, he crumpled the night with his writhing wrists, lips puckered up, cheeks bulging and eyelids trembling. A little robin perched lightly on one of his bandaged legs. So sorry Steve that you’re not a real Teddy bear, a sorry man for all that. The morning would be my time for questions and I could only hope for answers. I turned to dreams. I was hired sporadically by Steve’s foundation, I worked as a distinguished yet underpaid spy, dispatched on secret missions to unearth discrepancies and unseasonal fare. Seek out discourtesy, short change, half measures, French mustard, slacking and wild boar pie; with with carrots!

The 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 a 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.

“I was never a real bear,” Steve told me, clearly disappointed. A man in a bear suit! Just before I scissor your autistic ass.

“Oh, dear shit! I am so frightfully sorry, meine Frau, Was macht’s?”

“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 rusty 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.

The next morning I had a fury of a hangover and in no condition to take any of Matthew’’s or anybody else’s bullshit. The debate which ensued was in its sum and progress an epitome of the course of life.

“Steve, you’re lying, what about those documentaries and the poem?”*

“Oh the poem, yes.” Steve looked at me bitterly but without regret.

“Just like those films on the tellyvisual, crafted with pride by Lebensmittel-großhandlung.”

He wasn’t joking now, not at all, go configure.

“Didn’t you even notice 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 Pyrenees and the bruising pileups in the final sprint.”

“But what about Bono? How do you explain him away then?”

“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.”

“You pair of lying toe-rags!” I faced them square, whispering farts 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.

Those two had been in cahoots and for some considerable time, now let me think. That restaurant, the first time we all met, Steve had planned it all!  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 dressing-gowns?

Well, what 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 gruesome deliberation…slippery and incontinent scum!”

“Wait a minute Rodney.” Matthew interrupted me, as if he found it all so amusing, “why don’t you tell them the truth about yourself for once?” The blasted cheek of the man.

“Yes Rod, come on we have both come clean with you.“ Steve was challenging. “ We’’ve suffered, now it’s your turn.”

They were right in a way I suppose, Steve had just moved in next door to me, out of the blue so to speak. All he had said was ‘Bonjour’ and I had taken him in, under my wing. A friend in need is a friend at last. But still they were 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. but I do not use drugs to hide my solitude, it is all I have, and when the drugs and alcohol melt away, that will be all they have too. It is a mistake to think you can solve any problem at all with alcohol, drugs or tinned tomatoes.

“Well Rodney?” All three were looking at me as if they needed a piss.

Cut the trousers in two! I thought. Only give them one half!

“Come on Rodney!”

“All right my friends, you shall have your pound. Why not? Why ever not? You should have known, all of you, fools that you are that Ruritania is and always has been an absolute monarchy. No parliament and no bloody Prime Minister! No sirs, I was for the seven long years preceding my glorious departure King Ludo’’s Chief of Police!”

“Crap!” Said Eric with more harshness than I thought necessary. “No, I meant Holy Crap! Rod.”

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.

“We’’ve got ourselves a problem lads, listen to this: Saint-Tropez, ville sous le choc…”

“Eric! Shut up. How do you expect me to understand French at this time of day with a filthy pounding headache” I shot a particularly nasty look at Mr Gloag.

“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.

Saint-Tropez: A town under the shock. Since yesterday published were stunning statistical evidence that this sunny southern town has exceeded all known records of winter 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:

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.” Say the advocates of this type of manure. Some 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”!

One 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, “I thank you for your hospitality and instructive dinner, but as Louie Louie so rightly said: We gotta go now.”

“Zwei, Fier, sechs, acht Autubahn!” Cried Steve. Homeward through the haze.

Der Autobahn

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 track with white stripes, green edge. 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

When you really get down to it, this country, La Belle and much visited France is nothing more than a miserable little Polizeistaat. Police Nationale, Police Municipale, Railway Police, lunch-break police The Republican Security Corps and who knows what other species of uniformed peaked capped little Napoleon shitheads that roam the streets licking pencils and inspecting your trousers with disgust.

If that were not enough we also find those particularly 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 Johnny’s with the lotion that cynically patrol rural zones and six lane highways on beautiful belt 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 wearing big barn yard sunglasses, 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 good talking to this time.

Having said all that, 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 the 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 you. 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 gendarmette 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 full of 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 2013 in response to a massive but anodyne bonfire beach party, a ‘flashmobe at ground zero en quelque sorte on the plage des Salins.’

It turns 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 red 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’re out of luck, we’re having a spot 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.
“No Sir, not a forest fire. Now be on your way, there is nothing more to see here, not a dollop, now circulay! Circulay! Be about your own business.”
I ‘phoned Taz, not really expecting to get through, but she picked up.
“Taz! Where the hell 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.”
“Who the hell is Eric? Never mind. Dad, just grab the Turpitude and come and get us, We’’ve got the police under control for now, but it won’t be long before they get gas masks or send in the flying squad.”
“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, do the math!”
“We’re on our way darling, but please, lay offa ze Nucky balls.”
“Fuck of Dad, it’s too late for that, just get here.”
Half an hour later we boarded the turpitude, we had left the mopeds safe, 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 will have his cow pie and enjoy his comeuppance. Lister! Yellow-robed and vile he 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 you’re doing wearing my dressing gown?” Steve was furious.
“Lister what the hell are you doing here on the boat?” I asked him straight. “Lozzi said she had chucked you overboard at Cadix.”
“She did, the little vixen, but I luv ‘er, so I stashed meeself away on board wi’out ‘’er knowing.”
“Don’t you mean stowed away?”
“Yes I do.”
“Hand over my cloak asshole!” Steve would not let go.

“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 you? Note the shawl collar and piped finish, a pure wool men’s dressing gown with breast pocket and two side pockets. Finished with an elegantly tassled belt. A cut back yarn on the outside gives it the soft velour finish and the looped yarns inside maximise absorption of water and enhance the 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 practical 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 to Les Salins Beach?”
“Bloody ‘ell!” 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 driver, and you Steve, up the spanker mast with you, barrelman!” And with the spite and malice of a true Yorkshireman finally laying to rest my doubts about his authenticity, added unnecessarily: “Raglan sleeves mate, raglans I’’m tellin’’ yer.”

In response to our understandable blank looks and total absence of any form of industrious behaviour, Lister began with chiding insults :

“are you pissed or barmy? Simpering 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?”

Which to him was nothing but a red rag. “If owt’s worth doin, do it yer sen.” he muttered grievously to himself before he started running about the deck, deftly making a cunt-splice here and a cringle there, 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 and finally strode, 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 the lads! 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 delight through the ship’’s binoculars; Taz and Lozzi stoking the fire, a swarm of minor French celebrates; Beckham and Posh, a couple of Bonos and Dwight too, if my 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 a 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 reunion with the Earl of Gateshead and I still owe him a tenner for 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 good duck’s arse crotchet to’’t brigand bar and I’l’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 an adolescent crisis don’t you son?”
“No you twat, 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 it’s 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 chum Eric he had found a big box of flares 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 year’s 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 danced 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 at each other, our heads buried deep in our hands and I thought I even heard Eric slightly sobbing, then I did hear,something, very loud and clear, 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?”