As the sun set on 2015 the year ended in a blaze of bucolic glory with the usual round of traditional country festivities. The first main event was our annual soirée, a drinks and nibbles party we hold for our friends which is always a great success. One of the reasons for this is because of 'le quiz'. It is something that the folk in these parts had not encountered in quite the same way before, and has since become something of a phenomenon.
At first our guests regarded it with scepticism, but once everyone grasped the fun side of it, they quickly embraced the idea and morphed into an unruly rabble. This year was no exception. Jack, my husband, is quizmaster. He is a natural autocrat and therefore perfectly cast in this role, which he takes extremely seriously. With a stern eye on the excited assembled company he barks out general instructions which nobody listens to, and announces who is on which team. He then hands round question papers, pencils and reading specs, one for each group.
Team selection always causes an undercurrent of concern because, quite frankly, nobody wants to be stuck with Louis Saveur, or Chloe Pentade and certainly not Sebastian Foulard. We all love Louis but, as a double hearing-aid wearer, he has dreadful difficulty with personal volume control. Therefore, at regular intervals during the heat of the competition, he can be heard blasting the answer to a question across the room. This completely foils the team’s advantage and creates a spate of feverish scribbling amongst those opposing players who have been lurking close by in spy-mode.
Chloe is an enchanting person too, but Jack is convinced that she a few peas short of a casserole. She certainly loves the idea of the quiz, and if only she would read the instructions, or even listen, things might go a lot smoother. We all try to explain the process, but she’s one of those people who presses all the buttons on a gadget, breaks it, and then asks for help afterwards. So I’m afraid that despite being keen as mustard, she is never a key contributor. Sadly her enthusiastic and somewhat random chatter gets in the way of a pithy clue debate too, and frequently becomes an unwanted distraction. However, her input never lasts for long because she is easily side-tracked and usually wanders off halfway through to contemplate other things.
Then there is Sebastian. A complete stalwart, but does have the unfortunate character trait of believing that he is never wrong – about anything. Unluckily for his team mates, he has now added his perceived prowess at quizzing to this belief. This causes frequent arguments between him and his team as they quarrel their way through every question where there’s a risk that their opinion may differ from his own. Strained though it may be, a relatively democratic approach to the answering process is usually maintained unless Sebastian gains control of the pencil and answer sheet. This can have a catastrophic effect. In this event he has been known to score out previously well considered responses and replace them with his own.
Sebastian’s behaviour often has ramifications at the end of the quiz too. When the answers are revealed he habitually wags his head in disappointment at the ineptitude of the quizmaster’s lamentable research if the official answers do not match his own.
The combined effect of Louis’ shouting, the general disruption caused by Chloe’s random chitchat and the combative style of Sebastian, naturally creates a considerable increase in volume, and much animated debate. But this riotous behaviour is not a problem for someone as bossy as my husband. Jack efficiently rises to the challenge by stalking around, keeping order and returning moles to their correct teams.
When time is called, and question papers swapped, Jack’s announcing of the answers causes renewed barracking from the mob, some of whom are jubilant, others dismayed. He then has to deal with several points of order from Yves. Yves is a language pedant who believes the omission of an accent, or any other punctuation detail, to be “vraiment très grave” and declares that if Jack would pay more attention to such details it would help him respond to the questions a lot better. This happens every year and participants are now wise to his protestations. Boisterous laughter follows as Yves is congratulated for providing the wrong answers, but in perfectly punctuated French. Thus the poor chap, unable to make any headway with his precision approach to the language, returns to his paperwork, tutting at the dismal show of misplaced accents and cedillas.
Finally, the winner is declared and prizes given for the first four teams. But it’s not the meagre gifts that fill these valiant victors with joy, it is the glorious knowledge that they have won the competition. Disagreements are instantly forgotten, pledges to improve general knowledge are made, and participants quaff their thirst and feed their appetites with renewed energy. The party continues until the early hours of the morning and as the revellers leave there are several cries of ‘the quiz, it was infernal! But don’t worry, we will win next year!’ Yes, it’s become a mainstay of our annual soirée, and the perfect kick-start to the festive season for us all.
Our other seasonal events include the Christmas night market where we immerse ourselves in the magical sights and sounds offered by a very special medieval town, and then the neighbours’ Christmas bash, held outside in the public layby of our local village. Everyone brings a food or drink contribution and we all sit around a huge log fire and gossip about the local goings-on in the area. It was during this evening when we were discussing Christmas present wishes, when Jack made a curious remark. “You know,” he said chewing on a hunk of delicious pizza, “I really fancy a nice sausage.”
“Oh, right, do you?” I replied, caught slightly off guard by this novel choice of stocking filler, “Monsieur Blanchard in Moissac makes lovely sausages, shall I get some from him?”
“No I mean proper English sausages, you know, the ordinary pork variety. I’ve never liked the French ones, much too complicated. It’s difficult to work out what’s inside them.”
“What, like herbs and garlic do you mean?”
“Yes exactly.” This was a shame, I love a nice herby sausage. I broke the sorry reality to him.
“Ah, well, I’m not sure where we’re going to get any of those. As you know the French do like their herbs.”
Jack looked wistfully into the middle distance, grunted and returned to his half-eaten slab.
The wonderful thing about Christmas is that it often brings happy surprises, and this year proved to be no exception. It was only a couple of days after our sausage conversation when Jack came bounding down the stairs whooping with joy. Jack never does this sort of thing, so whatever had happened, it must have been extraordinary.
“Guess what?” he gushed.
“Go on, tell me, what?”
“The fish and chips lads are doing a UK meat run. So we’re going to be able to have proper pork sausages for new year!” he exclaimed.
I should explain that, European sausages excepted, my husband is fairly cosmopolitan in his eating tastes. But he does love his Anglo-Saxon favourites such as traditional Yorkshire puddings, fish and chips and, of course, regular pork sausages. Yorkshires I can serve up with consummate ease, but my fish and chips just aren’t up to the standard of a British fish shop. Therefore you can imagine his excitement the day we heard about the mobile chippy, manned by a team of lads from Hull, that had started touring our area.
We have since been devoted disciples and Jack has been known to drive over 40 kilometres to track down a portion of battered cod ‘n’ chips, with mushy peas on the side. I must say that they are excellent too.
It appears that the team had diversified and decided to do a meat run during the festive period. They had sensibly emailed their clients with a list of goods, and given dates and locations for deliveries. Such was Jack’s enthusiasm that I quickly stopped what I was doing and we put together a list of our favourites, including large quantities of the all-important great British, unadulterated, pork sausage.
The day of the pick-up finally arrived, Jack was on tenterhooks. Then he received another email from his meat mates which read:
“Sorry the meat drop-off time is going to be delayed at Aruge because Doug turned off and went to the wrong Lauzern. Bloody GPS. Anway we’ll be at Aruge at 7pm instead of 6pm. Sorry. All the best.”
Never mind, we thought, easily done – just a minor setback.
I was busy with housework so despatched Jack with money and a copy of our order, confident that he couldn’t muck up this simple shopping errand because it had all been pre-organised. All he needed to do was pick up the goods and pay. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out quite as planned.
Over an hour later Jack returned looking crestfallen. “What’s up darling, are you laden with meaty treasures?”
“Well the meat selection was about as organised as his GPS. I was the first customer there, thank God, otherwise it could have been even worse. They didn’t have half the stuff we ordered.” I looked at his face – it was a mask of misery.
“Oh what a shame. But did you manage to get the pork sausages?”
“Well yes, but they’re pork and cranberry!”
“Oh that’ll be fine don’t worry about that. The flavour will be very subtle I’m sure,” I replied brightly, genuinely thinking that the cranberries would perk up an otherwise decidedly ordinary sausage a treat.
“I hate cranberry sauce, you know I do. It’s like eating jam and meat together,” Jack replied morosely.
“Don’t be silly, they’ll be lovely, come on let’s have a look at the other things.”
The contents of his bag weren’t overly inspiring I’m afraid, and bore very little resemblance to our original list. Jack explained this by saying that the lad knew the order was incomplete and had promised to come to our house the following afternoon to sort it out.
The next day we stayed close to the house so that we didn’t miss him but, as each hour passed, I could see that Jack’s patience was wearing thin. Finally, he couldn’t stand the suspense any longer, so he called his fish and chips mates and got the mobile number for the meat man.
I, of course, could only hear one side of the telephone conversation that followed, but this is how it went.
“Hello… hello... Doug? Ja… Jack… no… JACK HASLAM here! Yes, bad line I know… You said you were coming to the house… house – can you tell me when you’re going to get here..? Why?” At this point Jack was looking confused. “Well because you gave us the wrong order… WRONG… yes wrong, we talked about this last night…” Doug finally appeared to have understood the reason for the call, so Jack continued.
“For a start it’s those pork sausages, they’ve got chicory in them… chicory… Pardon? Spell it? Oh… c h i c o r y… Yes they have Doug! Of course I’m sure… How do I know what they look like? N… no of course I can’t describe them… Pardon? Why not? Oh well it’s because they’re all minced up bits inside the sausages but it quite clearly says chicory on the packet.” Jack had not realised his culinary misidentification so I tried to help out by hissing the correct word at him. This had no effect at all. He was so worked up that he didn’t take a blind bit of notice of me. He continued doggedly.
“What colour? Oh, erm red… yes… lots of it… Look I’m sorry Doug but you’re not making any sense…” In order to save him from himself I stuck a post-it note under his nose with the correct ingredient name on it. Jack didn’t even change gear.
“Well alright yes, it might be cranberry… yes cranberry… Do you want me to spell that too? Ah good. Right, the point is we didn’t order those and you said you were coming to our house to sort it out… Ah, you are? You what? Which wrong turning?” Jack was now looking distinctly strained.
“What on earth is wrong with your GPS device? No, I’m afraid that’s completely the wrong direction… WRONG way Doug!
“You’re catching a flight? What? What are you doing, driving here, or flying here?” Jack had developed a minor facial twitch. “Oh, right, I see. Well look, if you’re hoping to fly back to the UK tonight you’re never going to make it here as well. No… honestly, you’re not… thank you for the thought Doug but you’re still driving in the opposite direction…y… yes…. opposite.
"Look, Doug, we were really looking forward to eating some of the stuff we ordered, but we’ll probably not die… yes DIE from malnutrition over the next few days. No, nobody’s died – sorry, my joke, obviously shouldn’t have said that… yes… JOKE! So, take the time to get things organised and let us know a firm date and time when you’ll be arriving with the rest of the meat… date.
“Hello… hello? Doug?”
Doug had gone. Poor Jack looked absolutely exhausted. He had done all he could, and to compound matters it had been a very long conversation for someone with so little patience.
Since then we’ve not heard from poor Doug, and Jack is no closer to tasting his dream of a perfectly plain English pork sausage. However, we are confident that our enthusiastic young man will appear at some point in the future and then maybe, just maybe, my husband’s Christmas wishes will be answered.
Our New Year’s Eve celebrations, albeit sausage-less, went perfectly, and now we find ourselves at the beginning of 2016. Last year rushed by in the blink of an eye so goodness knows what this one will be like. Already we have several major events listed on our calendar, not least of which is my intention to bring you the third instalment of our adventures with Fat Dogs and French Estates. All being well it will be published in the late Spring this year and I do hope you will join me in reading more tales from our rural pocket of France.
In the meantime, as the sun rises on 2016 I wish you and your family a happy, healthy and successful year. Let’s hope it’s the best one yet.