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! Theres 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!”
“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.
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.