In which we witness the miracle de l’abbatoir, discover untold depths to our french vocabulary and find that smoking can be very damaging to your self esteem.
If you’ve not been following the story so far, it basically goes: drive, sick, clean, drive, run, get lost, get unlost, drive, rain, puncture, fret. For a more detailed explanation go to parts one and two.
So, I mentioned that we were at our wit’s end, and that darkness had fallen, it was hammering it down with rain, that we had an undriveable car and three small hungry children who were, as we like to say in our house, all ‘on the turn’
And just then something really odd hapened. We heard it before we saw it – the scraping of metal and the grinding of industrial wheels. And then we saw it. Remember the bright light in the church that shines on Joliet Jake in the Blues Brothers? That.
The doors to the abattoir were slowly opening, and a great yellow light spilled out onto the road. And into the light came the abbatoir workers, at the end of what looked like a particularly bloody shift, walking out into the street.
Jumping out of the car, I ran over to them at a pretty reasonable clip, while trying to remember all the all-important vocabulary that I’d need for them not to think of me as some drenched and deranged twit. To my surprise, they seemed to be comfortable with the concept of a pneu crevée. They even seemed to get the concept of me needing a util that was slightly moins poxy that the one qui arrivée avec le Renault.
“Allons-y” said the foreman (I assumed he was in charge as you could still see some of the white of his coat through the blood).
Mrs E rolled the car in through the huge gates and into the abbatoir’s garage. The foreman told us that he was just off home now, but that we should help ourselves to tools and to shut the gates behind us when we left. We told him that we were more grateful than he could possibly know, if he was ever to visit Norwich in the near future, to drop by, offered up #3 as a potential godchild and promised that we’d be away before you could say humane stun gun.
And, true to our word, we were. There was a proper wrench in the garage that got the wheel off straight away, and we were rolling out of the abattoir and onto the road moments afterwards.
Driving home to dryness, warmth and food, we passed through a village with a Tabac. I mentioned that after the day that we’d had, we’d probably picked the wrong week to give up smoking. I said I’d go inside and buy some tobacco. Mrs E readily agreed and pulled the car up. I grabbed my coat, and ran back and into the Tabac.
You know those westerns when the piano stops playing when a stranger goes into the bar? Well, it was very much like that. There were perhaps a dozen or so old boys, none of them under 60, chatting and playing cribbage when I walked in. As soon as I got in through the door, everything stopped. I swear that there was a card being played and it stopped halfway over the table. Figuring that they might just not get many strangers in these parts, I stepped over to the bar.
“Bonjour Monsieur” I said, confident of my opening gambit.
“Bonsoir”, he replied, seeing my opening gambit, correcting me, and putting me right onto the back foot.
“Je voudrais achêter le tabac”, I parried.
He looked puzzled and I heard a half-cough, half-snort behind me.
Now, what I had meant to do was ask for some tobacco. What I’d inadvertently done, and frankly it’s a mistake anyone could have made, was offer to buy the bar.
After a certain amount of toing and froing (he was talking about 20 year lease terms, I was trying to think of the French for ‘ready rubbed’ without getting into any more trouble), I think we finally ironed out that 25 grams of Drum tobacco would see me out into the night, and, more importantly, out of his bar.
Then I had to ask for ‘les papiers’, and we had to go through the whole process of rejecting the offers of l’Equipe and Le Monde, before the art of mime took over. I didn’t dare ask for any filters, particularly as there still hadn’t been anything more than the occasional cough from the merry gang behind me.
My only thought was to get out and leave, sharpish. Roll a couple of fags as soon as we got back to the house, sneak them out the back door while the kids were in the bath, then swap roles with Mrs E. I grabbed my wallet from my coat pocket to pay, which in turn, dislodged the can of ‘Jus de Femme’ which I’d stuffed in there the day before. It bounced along the uneven floor, and came to rest under the boot of one of the cribbage players. It was a reasonably dark bar, but, as luck would have it, the can had rolled into a ray of light that lit up the logo to perfection.
I wandered over to retrieve the can as nonchalantly as a four hour run, a monumental family crisis and a cringeworthy tabac encounter would allow.
“Ce n’est pas pour moi, c’est pour les garçons”, I reasoned with the owner of the boot as I leant down, possibly doing nothing to counter my image as the mad foreigner.
I left the bar as casually as I could, and got into the car.
“You were ages”, said Mrs E. “Are you ok?”
“Leg it”, I said.
And she did.