Now here’s a thing. What inspires a budding author to actually sit down and write a book? For my first memoir ‘Please Wipe Your Boots’ it was the funny chaos and mayhem experienced as a young telephone apprentice with the GPO (the post office in the UK). I never thought I would meet such characters and mayhem again. Then I moved to France!
The year was 2005 and we had no idea about what, where or how we were going to exist. This is what happens when you retire early and want a last adventure… and what an adventure it turned out to be.
In my rush to be French I tried to join everything and do everything that the British think of when trying to pigeonhole a typical Frenchman. From joining the local Chasse (The classic French hunt which runs during the winter months) to competing in pétanque competitions – badly! And from opening a village bar to running a disastrous, hilarious village fête. Along the way I became a marriage service chauffeur with my newly acquired ancient Citroen Traction car and was tricked into the strangest Vendange meal ever seen. (The Vendange in France is the grape harvest in preparation for the wine making process.)
The Vendange meal was hosted by my neighbouring local shepherd and I will quote from the book to give you a flavour of what I was about to experience:
‘It’s hard to describe the impact of a first sighting of this character but perhaps it is best achieved by describing his appearance and let you picture it in your mind. And remember it, as you will be bumping into Jean-Pierre at regular intervals throughout the book.
Slight of build at around 68 years of age, skin looking like tanned leather. Dressed in aging clothes that all looked like they had once belonged either to his dad or granddad. Battered, stained trousers held up by a piece of blue string covering an equally battered pair of boots.
A shirt that once was white, then grey, now beige covered by an equally battered cardigan… similar colour. And an aging jacket that once belonged perhaps to a suit, someone else’s suit… a long time ago. All this was topped off by a battered cap worn at a jaunty angle.’
The rest of Jean-Pierre’s family were also a bit strange and after volunteering to help with his Vendange I was tricked by the other ‘helpers’ into staying for the traditional Vendange meal alone – just me and his family!
Amongst the funny stories and strange behaviours I explored some historical background to the way of life in France. For example which Mayor banned people from dying in his village, why it is illegal to call a pig Napoleon and the reason why French guys salivate over penknives!
I also discovered that the things that annoy or bewilder any newcomer to France, slowly become accepted, loved even. After all they are what makes the French…well – French!
Stanley George, author of French Farce, available from Amazon