October 17th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Three Fêtes and a Football Match Part Four (in which I accidentally become a professional footballer

It's June, 1995 again. We're at our first French fete, the wine is flowing, my head is spinning...

As we ran out of things to say about black and white cows and the weather, I started thinking about sport.

Not a good idea.

For many years I'd greeted the arrival of a new football season with the thought that perhaps this year I'd give it another go. Take it up seriously again, dig out the boots and get back into training.

And a few weeks later I'd think of a good reason why not to. It was cold or there was something I wanted to watch on TV or I felt a muscle twinge. And after all, there would always be next year.

A promise that gained less credibility as the years progressed.

But wine has the ability to rejuvenate - the mind, if not the body. I wasn't that old. I could still a play a bit, if I put my mind to it.

Strange things began to happen around me. People became excited and fetched other people who became even more excited.

Did I want to play football, they asked? Of course I did, I replied, I love a kick about.

And the wine flowed and the fromage arrived and glazed apple tart and more wine. By the time the eau de vie made its rounds I would have agreed to anything. Unfortunately it appeared I already had.

I was sure I had said, "I had professional trials when I was fifteen." However, I began to have a nasty suspicion it had been interpreted as, "I was a professional footballer for fifteen years." A subtle difference.

And as I later found out, I hadn't been invited to a kick about either. There would be no sweaters rolled up for goalposts on the village green. I'd signed up to play for Racing Club, the local team. With my forty-first birthday fast approaching and not having kicked a ball for four years, and then not particularly well, I was about to make my league debut in French soccer.

But with the warm glow of red wine and general bonhomie abounding, what did I care? I loved football and there was plenty of time to get fit for the new season. And there were definite advantages - Racing Club were having a fête next week and we were both invited.

My memories of the latter stages of the fête start to fade at this point. I remember the coffee coming round and something to do with sugar lumps. Unfortunately Shelagh remembers it all. And frequently fills in the gaps.

I blame it all on the eau de vie.

Which is a kind of home-brewed schnapps. And amazingly legal. It's a strange quirk of French law - undoubtedly Napoleonic - that certain French families were given the right to distil liquor. A right handed down through the generations, so that most communities have an eau de vie man. Who can generally be recognised by a certain dissolute appearance and a large number of friends.

I am told I had eau de vie in my coffee. Followed by eau de vie neat. And finally eau de vie on sugar lumps - which apparently is the traditional way of taking it. A bit like tequila with salt and lemon, I suppose.

Shelagh tried to stop me but when her own coffee was threatened with topping up she was distracted long enough for the damage to be done. It's amazing how quick people can be with a doctored sugar lump.

We didn't stay for the boules. I remember zigzagging up a hill but had to be told about collapsing through the front door.

The next thing I remember was being woken up that evening by a set of blaring car horns. I'd been happily negotiating the purchase of an end terrace crayfish when suddenly the street exploded in a wall of sound. I staggered to our bedroom window half asleep and peered out at two cars and a drive full of people.

Shelagh called up, "It's for you," and promptly disappeared into the lounge with Gypsy. I don't think I had yet been forgiven for the excesses of the afternoon.

But I was sobering up fast. There's nothing like two car loads of strange men appearing unexpectedly at your house to flush the alcohol from your brain.

(next instalment: Al Jolson, Joan of Arc and me - the Human Sacrifice)
International Kittens of Mystery

Lambing will be early next year.

After a month of serial temptation as one by one our ewes came into season and then shamelessly promenaded up and down the fence line between them and our ram...

Harmon Ramm succumbed. And so did the fence.

We're treating the incident philosophically. We were going to put him in with the ewes at the end of the month. And there's only so much a young ram can take. And ewes with their tight fleecy skirts, their lips raddled bright red, leaning up against the lamp post baaing Marlene Dietrich songs was the final straw.