Amanda and I are in France for a 3 day break, guests of one of my oldest friends, Ali Muir, and his girlfriend Valentine. Ali and I met in first year at Hamilton Academy and have been pals since. Ali left Scotland in his early twenties for Toronto where he built up a successful insurance business which he has recently sold. The trip is part of his attempt to transit from work to semi-retirement. From the amounts we eat and drink it seems to be going well!!
He has the use of a small, two bedroom gite in Aujargues, a village situated about 15 miles north east of Montpelier. He is into his second week when we get there on the Thursday. The early morning trip from Scotland was painless other than my attempt to get breakfast at Prestwick Airport. Prestwick is now owned by the Scottish government, the previous incumbents having failed to ever make a profit from their investment. Lack of volume was the key reason plus a very competitive deal on landing fees conceded to keep Ryanair using the Airport. But judged by my experience the catering offer was probably also partly responsible for the lack of success. The choice is limited – nothing on the hot plates seems to have any moisture still clinging to it. I see some beans congealing in a pan. My hopes rise.
‘Can I have beans and toast please? ‘
‘Aye ye could’, pause for a few seconds, ‘but ma toasters broke.’
This is a blow. I decide to deal with it ironically. ‘That would make it quite hard to fulfil my order then?!’
Irony was a mistake. ‘What else can you suggest?’
A finger points in the direction of a plate, with no lid, holding something which looked vaguely like a croissant.
‘Just a croissant then,’ I continue attempting to inject some enthusiasm into the exchange. No response.
I retire to my seat praying the croissant tastes a million times better than it looks and feels. I almost have to use both hands to lift it up. It is, as I feared, minging. Amanda is looking at me in amazement.
‘We’re going to the cradle of croissant, and you order one here!’ It’s a fair cop. I pretend that it is delicious but as the croissant probably pre dates the time when Elvis Presley famously stepped off the plane here in the 1950s I crash and burn.
Everything else about the weekend is great. The house is right on the central square and we have pitched up on the weekend of the annual village fete. The key event in the 3 day celebration is bull running which is taking place along the narrow road in front of the gite. We have perfect, grandstand views as the town gets ready for the bulls. Being France, the start of the celebrations is a tad delayed so we have time to observe the antics of the local teenagers as they await the main event. The pageant of boys and girls trying to interact at that age is timeless and universal although I do spot and comment on a couple of differences from my early teenage days in Carluke. (Ignoring the fact that it is a beautiful sunny night!)
There was a period in my teens, before my pals and I were old enough to go to ‘the dancing’, when Friday nights were snooker at the Welfare Hall, followed by vain attempts to persuade the only Off License in the town to sell us alcohol.
‘Away and don’t be daft – I’ll tell yer dads’
And then walking up and down the high street in the hope
A We would see girls
B They would talk to us
That long odds double never came up.
It is sort of the same in Aujargues. The girls look cool, confident of their attractiveness, and stand of one side of the street. The boys congregate on the other, punching each other and I’m sure shitt… bricks that they make fools of themselves when the bull running starts. The object is to touch the bull’s horns – I guess a kiss from a girl – or, and nobody manages this, get on the back of the bull and ride it. Who knows what reward that would bring? The difference is the boys all look like Justin Bieber. No. Every one of them!! Same dress options, same hair, same baseball caps at the identical orientation.
It looks like aliens have targeted rural France for their second attempt at Invasion of the Body Snatchers – replacing human beings with duplicates that appear identical but are devoid of emotion or individuality. This time the pods contain Bieber clones. Weird. Won’t their parents notice?
The bull running is exciting. The bulls are corralled between an arrow of 5 horses and care is taken to see they don’t break away and run loose in a very narrow street (although it does happen twice as we watch!)
Thinking it had finished we stepped out onto the road to walk down to our taxi later that night. We had gone 10 yds when the unmistakable sound of galloping horses suggested we were wrong. The girls ducked through the side barriers. Ali and I stood our ground. Like men. Or men who couldn’t easily squeeze through the railings Lived to tell the tale. One that will be embellished with each re telling. Luckily the horses swerved when they rounded the corner and saw us. Not surprising. Even crazed horses would shy away from two largish Scots, glowing like radioactive waste after a day drinking and soaking up the rays.
Later that night we are back having our third nightcap after our evening meal at a local restaurant, listening to the groups playing in the square. The last band is replaced by a DJ and the music takes a serious turn for the worse.
I am at an age where I don’t need to pretend I keep up with modern music but neither do I want to fall into the age / grumpy trap of categorising all new stuff as sh… Amanda is very good at encouraging me to listen to new music and I try to at least know enough not to embarrass Ellie and her pals when they let me in to their group play list.
The first half hour of the DJ is fairly horrendous. We all agree on this and are just about to pack in when a new song starts ,a song so diametrically opposed to what has gone before that I can only assume he has been assassinated by a French parent from my generation who has seized control of the deck. A song I haven’t heard for generations. Del Shannon Runaway.
My god. The tune finishes. Then silence. I am back at Carluke Town Hall waiting for the classic Del Shannon follow up. The song that was played in every dance hall in Scotland about 15 minutes before the end. The song that signalled the start of the slow dances, the attempt to get a lumber. A song probably only known in Scotland. I sing it, very badly and drunkenly to the others. Ali remembers it – and the stampede effect it had on the males in the hall. Amanda and Valentine look on in amazement. What a piece of social anthropology to finish the night.
One of the key reasons I am trying to write my blog. Reconnect to my past.
This is the longest period (6 days) I have spent not hitting golf balls or playing since I began my long journey. I miss playing which is strange but good I think.
It is a fantastic weekend. Great setting, company, food and drink. We actually get 5 litres of wine at a local winery for under €15 and I can still see after having drunk it!!
If anyone can name that Del Shannon number I will treat them to an appropriate drink from that era (1964-67)
IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO RECORD THAT NO JUSTIN BIEBER LOOKALIKES WERE HARMED IN THE STAGING OF THE BULL RUNNING – UNFORTUNATELY.