I opened the door, not sure whether this was the boules committee on a dusk raid or a team of Joan of Arc's hit men. I was ready to deny all knowledge of ever owning coloured plastic boules - Ce n'est pas moi, I was ready to shout. But I didn't have to. It was the football team. They'd come to fetch me. The bar was open and festivities underway.
I was dragged off.
As I said, I'm not very good at refusing a drink. And even worse in a foreign language.
I thought I heard the words 'Oh God' emanate from the lounge as the car pulled away.
The church square had been transformed since the afternoon. For one thing it was darker. On a more substantive note, the trestle tables had gone, the bar pulled away from the shade of the tree and enlarged considerably. A small stage had appeared with speakers and microphones and someone had lit a bonfire.
Oh my God!
I might have known. I'd seen the film. The newcomer feted, given food and drink and asked to join the football team and then just when he's starting to enjoy himself - it's human sacrifice time. And I had been cast as this year's Joan.
As we approached closer, I could see figures running - or were they dancing - around the bonfire. There was so much noise and so many people in the way it was hard to tell. I was just wondering what the French for coven was when a woman burst into our group and grabbed the face of the man next to me. When she took her hands away his cheeks had turned black.
I was no longer interested in the French for coven.
I was desperately trying to remember the English for that flesh-eating bug that was all the rage a few years back. Didn't that eat people's faces and turn them black?
Or was that a film I'd seen about zombies?
As the woman turned towards me with her hands outstretched, I waited for my life to flash in front of my eyes. But my life had to wait as it was elbowed aside by fleeing alcohol molecules. Two car loads of strange men may sober a person up fast but a head-grabbing woman turning peoples' faces black has the edge every time.
Two hands fastened upon my cheeks. Still no sign of past events or bright white lights. How long did it take to die? How many more alcohol molecules were there?
As the last droplet of intoxication waved goodbye, I plucked up the courage to ask what was happening. I'd been initiated, apparently. As had everyone else around me, it being the local custom to blacken everyone's face with ash from the bonfire. This may have been something symbolic about the ashes of Joan of Arc. Or, possibly, the last vestiges of Al Jolson worship in continental Europe. My French was not good enough to enquire further.
I was given a beer and introduced to Racing Club's captain, possibly to discuss tactics for the coming season, but seeing as neither of us could understand what the other was saying, nothing of great import was decided.
I rued my lack of French. And vowed to do something about it. Perhaps getting involved with the local team would be the catalyst I needed.
And I suppose I should have used the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions. But the alcohol had established another beachhead and I was starting to look forward to playing again - after all it had been a dream for a long time. And I wasn't likely to be given another chance.
And besides, I didn't see myself as forty. Like most people I had an inner clock which ran much slower than chronological time. I had been seventeen for ages, twenty-three for about six years, clung on to twenty-eight during most of my thirties and was now settling down to a young thirty-five. What were a few games of football to a young thirty-five year-old?
And besides, there'd be a couple of weeks of training sessions to iron out any problems. And if at the end of that I wasn't good enough, I'd know and the door to my boot cupboard would be firmly nailed shut.
I staggered back up the hill. Not so many zigzags this time. Above me the stars shone bright and the cicadas hummed Al Jolson medleys.
Climb upon my knee - chirrup - sonny boy - chirrup, chirrup.
I turned into the drive of the little crayfish cottage on the corner and disappeared inside.
(next instalment: Another Fete, Bobby Charlton and the Basque)