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 dont file. I dont 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.