(Nicked from old blog - July '05)
Staring at reflection on laptop screen. Not a pretty sight. Blinding hangover. Throbbing head. Makes an Essex chav's well ICE'd-up booming Subaru seem like a two minutes' silence in a deserted graveyard on Remembrance Day.
What a night.
Started off harmlessly enough. A round of Ricards at Christian and Isabelles' with son Hadrien and neighbour Didier. Isabelle doesn't touch Ricard. Hates the stuff. Had a Coke instead. Sat on sunlit patio. Piled into battered Renault and headed west. Stopped on way for an old brown dog. Wandering in road. Hadrien rang number on collar. Then shoved mutt in boot. Detoured to grateful owner. Hit road again. Arrived at hilltop village. Bathed in evening sun. Not sure what to expect. Loadsa cars. And huntsmen. With hunting dogs. And horns.
Joined the crowd ambling into Gioux village. Dominated by newly renovated church. People playing petanque in its shadow. And beyond. Must be at least a dozen games going on. Cannonballs whizzing in all directions. Careful where you step. Could mean a smashed skull. "Ooh, pardonnez-moi. C'etait un accident. Je suis desole!" "Ah, pas de probleme..."
Crap French music blaring from tinny Tannoys above parked caravan decked out with bunting. Competes with hunting horns. Coupla drinks tents on village green. Maybe two hundred people. Recognise a few faces. The insurance man; chatted about my new third-hand Citroen. Joel Breuil the builder; told me to sign his estimate p.d.q. so building plans could be o.k.'d next month. And the pretty hairdresser; held my tum in despite her scalping me only last week.
Joined a queue for a drink behind the massive Christian. Given a large Ricard. No question. Then somebody else gave me another. And another. Staggered off for a look round the village. Clutching a plastic cup. More crap music from hidden Tannoys on sloping streets. Laughing kids running. Burly guys pissing behind the church. Can't bring myself to do it. Go behind hedge instead. Two sweaty men in hunting gear run past, dragging a sack of wet straw with a rope. Minutes later a pack of hunting dogs bark past at speed. Watch them lining up for supper on the village green. There's a huge pile of meat and bread. But a hunting boy with a whip keeps the dogs at bay. Tempers become frayed. Fangs flare. Growls and snarls above hunting horn fanfares. Two big dogs start fighting. Then others join in. Huntsmen rush in and drag them off by scruffs of necks. Bloodstains on hunting britches. A whistle signals a rush for food. A canine scrum. Dogs rush off in all directions with lumps of meat. One stops in my shadow, chewing a meaty bone. Blood dripping from a badly gashed cheek.
Then it's our turn. People slowly amble towards the meal marquee, lit by the orange embers of a setting sun. Hardy souls hold their positions at the drinks tents. Christian and I included. Ricard rounds continue. A dozen or more at a time. There's shouting, singing, backslapping. Christian's eventually dragged off to eat by starving Isabelle and Hadrien. But he stops at the other drinks tent on the way. More Ricards. More bonhomie. Half an hour later we're sat at a table chewing meat with wine. Then we're back outside again. There's a firework display. Topple over backwards as I watch a rocket whoosh up into the dark night sky. It explodes in a ball of silver stars. Flat on my back, I make a mental note to never drink another Ricard. Someone hands me another.
Suddenly there's a scuffle. Christian's grappling with some poor bloke while Isabelle attempts to pull her big man back. Must be some history there. I throw myself in to tear them apart. "Ah, anglais..." slurs my giant chum, eyes blurred by countless Ricards. "Arrete, Christian... s'il vous, er sorry, tu, plait." He smiles and it's over. Then we're back at the bar. And the other guy melts into the night. Later, there's another contretemps. Two young bucks are throwing punches and bottles in the disco tent (what disco tent?). So Christian wades in again, shouldering chaps out of the way. With me behind him trying to look tough, new skinhead crop to the fore. But the fracas ends when Christian's giant shadow darkens the disco floor. Trouble, what trouble? We turn around and head back to the bar. Then more drinking. Can't remember much else.
At around midnight (midnight?! I've since been told it was about 4am!), Isabelle rounds us up to drive us home. I'm dumped outside a strange house in the dead of night. "Where am I?" "Home!" The car's red lights disappear down the hill. I fumble in the dark trying to find a big old key. And an unfamiliar lock in a creaky old door. Eventually it opens and I grope for the light. Jock and Sprocket greet me with wagging tails and crossed legs. "What the hell time do you call this?"
We go outside and have a wee. Then bark at the moon.
Another Saturday night in rural France.
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