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.”
“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.”